Bears can’t hold back Beavers in first Pac-12 loss

The numbers didn’t lie.

Heading into Thursday night as the Pac-12’s top offense, Oregon State dispatched the Cal men’s basketball team, 92-85, with a flurry of scoring runs.

Also ranked the ninth-best scoring offense in the nation, the Beavers (11-4, 1-2 in the Pac-12) walked onto their home floor at Gill Coliseum desperately needing a victory. Coach Craig Robinson’s team was a surprise upstart this year, but faltered as it entered conference play with back-to-back losses at Washington and Washington State.

A return to Corvallis, Ore., solved the Beavers’ problems.

Cal (12-4, 2-1) didn’t have significant trouble piercing Oregon State’s 1-3-1 defense, but simply couldn’t keep the floodgates closed against the home team’s red-hot backcourt. Ahmad Starks put away a career-high 24 points, a mark matched by teammate and the Pac-12’s leading scorer Jared Cunningham.

The Bears’ Jorge Gutierrez tied a season high with 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting, including three 3-point baskets. Allen Crabbe drained three 3-pointers of his own, but no one else on the Cal roster was able to connect from long range.

In contrast, the Bears couldn’t close out on any one shooter. Starks unleashed a torrent from outside, making 5-of-8 from 3-point territory, while Cunningham paired two 3-pointers with his 10-of-12 performance at the free throw line. Even Angus Brandt contributed in the frontcourt, as the 6-foot-10 Australian drilled all three attempts from beyond the arc.

Oregon State tossed in baskets with ease all night, shooting an unreal 61.1 percent from downtown and 63.3 from the field. In comparison, Cal’s own impressive 56.4 field-goal percentage looked anemic.

“We had to be aggressive, and we had to play defense,” Gutierrez said. “We were scoring, but we didn’t play good enough defense.”

The Beavers ran hard out of the halftime break, turning a 38-38 tie into a 77-61 lead with less than seven minutes left in the game. Gutierrez helped give Cal a chance, pump-faking center Joe Burton before drawing a foul on a 3-pointer at 5:39. The guard sank the free throw to convert a four-point play, and Crabbe followed with a 3-pointer on the next possession to cap the Bears’ 12-0 run.

With a 77-73 lead, Oregon State scored the nine points in less than two minutes.

“When we all decided to do something differently, or we wouldn’t win, we started attacking the basket, started making plays, got to within four points with the ball,” said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery. “with a real chance, then we turned it over and took us out of any chance at that point and time.”

It was a fitting end after a first half of back-and-forth scoring. The Bears went up early on buckets by Crabbe and Gutierrez, but the Beavers answered with a 13-0 run to seize an eight-point cushion. Cal didn’t reclaim the lead until 6:37.

The game also continued the Bears’ road woes; all four of their losses have occurred away from Haas Pavilion, where they are still undefeated.

Forward Richard Solomon scored five points and grabbed one rebound off the bench in his first conference appearance this season. He had missed six of Cal’s past eight games due to a stress fracture and a two-game suspension for an undisclosed conduct violation.