After holding a 13 point lead near the start of the second half, Oregon (13-11, 5-10) withstood a mighty California (12-13, 5-10) run to come away with a 63-58 win.
"It was nice to get a win; it was much needed," Oregon guard Bryce Taylor said.
Big was right. The Ducks entered this game in with a 4-10 league record, squarely in ninth place, a spot on the outside of the Pac-10 Tournament looking in. California, however, was at 5-9, tied with Washington State for seventh place.
While the Ducks and Bears were still in the early moments of their game, the Cougars were locked with Arizona in overtime. The Wildcats pulled it out by one, meaning that since the Ducks beat Cal, three are tied for seventh place with only two of them getting to go to the Pac-10 Tournament.
"All the right teams lost tonight," Oregon Head Coach Ernie Kent said.
The Ducks still could use some help from other teams to solidify their spot in the tournament and garner a better seed but if they continue to play like they did tonight, they might not need as much help as many people thought just a week ago.
Oregon fell behind early on 8-1 and looked sluggish and close to the Duck teams who have lost key games in recent weeks. Little by little, though, Oregon climbed back in it. A pair of Malik Hairston threes cut the lead to two with 14:00 to go in the first half. After a few Cal buckets, Taylor scored from the right side and the game was tied with 7:17 left.
Taylor looked particularly strong tonight, leading all scorers with 15 points, converting on 5-9 shots. He looked confident and his game reflected that.
"We had some guys hanging all over him and he knocked down some pretty tough shots," Cal Head Coach Ben Braun said. "You have to give him credit. I think he was the difference."
A 12-0 run put the Ducks up eight, where it would be to end the half with the score 32-24.
The Ducks continued to look strong until Cal went into a match-up zone which sparked their offense late in the game.
"I had never seen that out of Cal," Oregon point guard Aaron Brooks said of the match-up zone.
Cal actually tied the game at 56 with 2:47 left on a Marquise Kately dunk. Just one minute later, though, one player who seems to always make the hustle plays showed why Oregon wasn't going to lose this game.
Richard Midgley, who led the Bears with 13 points, pulled the trigger on a Cal three pointer that clanged off the iron. Brooks went up for the Oregon rebound and tipped the ball toward the baseline. There was no way the ball shouldn't have taken one more bounce and gone out of bounds to Cal with a new shot clock. Instead, Jordan Kent flew from out of nowhere, leapt, grabbed the ball and saved it back inbounds.
Brooks was fouled at the other end and made both free throws to give the Ducks the lead for good. A few Oregon free throws later and the game was over.
Those free throws were huge for this team and their confidence in shooting from the charity stripe. Oregon has struggled this year at the line, but tonight, they were 9-10 from the line in the second half.
"We've been shooting a lot of free throws in practice and it paid off today," Brooks said.
Along with Taylor and Brooks, who both played superbly, Maarty Leunen looked great in 24 minutes off the bench. The freshman had 12 points on 6-8 shooting.
Brandon Lincoln also was a spark off the bench. Although he only scored five points in 13 minutes, the graduate of Portland's Jefferson High School made a pair of steals and drilled a key three pointer in the second half while spelling Brooks at the point.
The Ducks will need more strong efforts out of these guys and the rest of the team to continue to make a run at a Pac-10 Tournament spot. Oregon has Stanford at home on Saturday, their final home game of the year.
"Hopefully we can get one more win in this great building before we close out the season here at home," Kent said.
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