When Nikola Knezevic nailed an unlikely trey from the right corner with 2:19 left to give the home team a 73-68 lead, the Bears could finally breathe easier. That was more than senior center DeVon Hardin was able to do for most of the night, as he tried to overcome the effects of the virus that kept him home last weekend. For most of the night, Cal was hacking and wheezing like their center, but they managed to even their conference record at 5-5 and move into a tie for 5th place in the league.
The Bears got off to a miserable start. Sloppy and flat, they let the Beavers take control of the game. When Omari Johnson hit a three at the 7:04 mark, OSU led 29-20. Cal woke up and went on an 18-2 run over the next 5 minutes, fueled by Anderson and point guard Jerome Randle. Marcel Jones' late three cut Cal's lead to 40-36 at the half.
The Bears shot 47% from the floor in the half, while OSU made 44%. 28 of Cal's 40 points came in the paint. A telling statistic was Cal's zero steals in the first half, because defensive pressure was virtually non-existent. The Beavers' offensive game plan was simple. Coach Kevin Mouton described it after the game, "We thought we had an advantage if we could spread them out and get 1 on 1 match-ups and drive to the basket." At the interval, the outcome was still very much in doubt.
Cal opened up the second half even more committed to feeding the post. After the game, Ben Braun put it succinctly: "We got the ball where it had to get."
Jamal Boykin opened the second half with a lay-up and Anderson posted up for consecutive hoops. 2 three-pointers from Omari Johnson kept the visitors close. Cal led 59-53 with just under 11 minutes to go, but Marcel Jones' 3 brought the Beavers back again. Jones' "and one" lay-up put Oregon State ahead 62-60, but Cal recovered.
Jerome Randle hit both ends of a one and one to tie it, and Hardin's jumper put Cal up by 2. Randle hit a huge three with 6:34 left to put Cal ahead to stay, 68-66. After 2 free throws by Calvin Hampton, Knezevic hit his big trey. From there, Cal made enough free throws to close it out.
The final stats show that OSU made 43% of their shots. Of their 63 attempts, 31 were from outside the arc, and they made 11 of those. It didn't seem to bother Braun. He said, "I'm less concerned with the challenged threes that they hit." He focused on some poor rotations, some drives to the bucket, and put-backs.
Cal shot 46% from the floor, but only 3-11 on three-pointers. Cal out-rebounded the visitors 44-32.
Boykin talked after the game about Knezevic's big shot: "He was confident and he wants to win. He was ready to shoot, he was in his stance." Both Boykin and Anderson noted that Cal still has lots of room for improvement on the defensive end. Their coach said, "We came up with steals when the game was on the line." However, the consistency on defense was not there, especially early.
Once again, Cal failed to put together a 40-minute effort. They will need to be much better on Saturday against Oregon. Coming off a total beat-down (72-43) at Stanford, the Ducks will be hungry for a road win. Oregon is the one team in the Pac-10 against whom Cal must defend the perimeter. They were just 4 for 18 on threes against the Cardinal, 14-48 overall, but opponents have had a tendency to improve their shooting at Haas.
Even Oregon State improved their percentages. The visitors came in scoring just 57 points per game, shooting 36% overall and 26% on threes in conference play. Clearly, their ability to spread Cal out was effective, and that is a strategy at which Oregon excels.
Defensive breakdowns on Saturday will be more costly. Oregon is a much better shooting team than the Beavers. Hardin will need to play a lot more effectively than he did in Eugene. The Ducks have now lost 5 of their last 6 games. As is often the case, Cal's ability to defend, rebound and take care of the ball will be decisive.
- Anderson led Cal with 22 points and 12 rebounds.
- Patrick Christopher had a tough shooting night, but scored 15.
- Boykin added 13 points and 8 rebounds, 5 on the offensive board.
- Marcel Jones 15 off the bench led OSU.
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