Devoe Joseph was going to take the last shot, and all of Haas Pavilion knew it.
In the last 30 seconds, the 6-foot-4 guard had drained two attempts from downtown, willing Oregon into a one-possession game. With his Ducks down three points, he waited at the top of the arc, the clock ticking down to 0:04 when he finally let the ball fly. The stadium, numbering a shade under 10,000, held its breath.
“I’m not gonna lie to you,” said Cal guard Justin Cobbs. “I was nervous.”
The shot clinked off the rim Thursday night, and as the ball sailed toward Oregon forward E.J. Singler, so too did the Ducks’ hopes of a Pac-12 Championship. Singler took an off-mark 3-point attempt, and the Cal crowd erupted in celebration of the 86-83 win.
A season sweep of Oregon keeps the Bears (21-6, 11-3 in the Pac-12) in pole position for their second conference title in three years. The Ducks (18-8, 9-5), arguably the toughest team left on Cal’s schedule, suddenly find themselves two games back — a margin that feels like a canyon with only four games remaining.
“We are in bad shape for the race,” said Oregon coach Dana Altman. “We had to have this one, and we knew it.”
“This is the kind of game you have to have if you’re gonna have a chance to compete for a championship,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery. “You have to have a game where you took the other team’s best shot and still come out with the win.”
Former teammates in Minnesota, Joseph and Cobbs both scored career highs with 33 and 28 points, respectively. With the rims looking as wide as a lake, who else but a pair of Gopher transfers to score big?
Joseph made his share of spectacular plays. On one possession, hounded by the conference’s best perimeter defender in Jorge Gutierrez, he banked in a long 3-pointer about five feet back from the line.
Less than 30 seconds later, Cobbs answered with a corner triple.
Their respective teams, echoing the showdown, traded baskets throughout the entire second half: a beautiful baseline feed from Gutierrez to David Kravish for an easy layup followed six seconds later by a full court pass to Carlos Emory for a layup. An emphatic dunk by Emory would be answered with Robert Thurman backing down for a short hook.
Oregon led by as many as eight points after the halftime break, but the Bears kept chipping back in, making enough stops to stay within one or two possessions.
Neither team was able to seize momentum. When Cobbs’s fast-break layup at 3:53 cut the deficit to 73-71, Montgomery was hit with a technical foul. Joseph, who was perfect on nine attempts at the line, sank both.
“They’re playing as good as anybody in the league right now,” Montgomery said. “Their bigs are athletic. They beat us down the floor … That really hurt us early. We just couldn’t keep up with them.”
The Bears opened the game with two turnovers and didn’t get a shot off — a missed jumper by Cobbs — until over two minutes had elapsed. They soon broke out with a 17-5 run that gave them the lead for the majority of the first half.