A night after two big upsets in the Pac-12, it seemed like Haas Pavilion would be the site of a third.
The Cal men’s basketball team trailed last-place Oregon State by as many as 12 points on Thursday night, but the Bears regrouped in the second half to win, 71-68.
The victory puts Cal (12-8, 4-4 in the Pac-12) into a four-way tie for fifth place in the conference. USC, one game back, shocked UCLA Wednesday night, while Stanford crushed first-place Oregon, the Bears’ next opponent.
“Any win at this point is just great momentum,” said forward Robert Thurman. “Stanford obviously showed that Oregon is not invincible.”
Point guard Justin Cobbs found Richard Solomon for a dunk to give the Bears a three-point lead with 17 seconds to play. Roberto Nelson led all scorers with 25 points, but the Beavers (11-10, 1-7) could not find him on the final possession, as Thurman blocked Devon Collier’s shot attempt out of bounds.
With seven seconds left in the game, Oregon State could not get a 3-point try up before the buzzer sounded, giving Mike Montgomery his 100th win as Cal’s coach and a big sigh of relief.
“It’s the kind of win you have to hope you get when you don’t play your best,” Montgomery said.
Trailing 41-33 at the half, the Bears started to creep back into the game midway through the second half. With just over 10 minutes remaining, Cal broke Oregon State’s press. Thurman’s thunderous dunk narrowed the Beavers’ lead to 55-51.
“At about the 14-minute mark, a timeout was called, and Monty really just let us have it,” Thurman said. “He just basically told us we needed to focus. He told us we needed to get our act together.
“After that, we really picked it up.”
After a slow first half, Cobbs came alive in the final 20 minutes, finishing with 14 points and seven assists. Around the eight-minute mark, Cobbs missed a three, but Allen Crabbe snagged the rebound and flung it back to his backcourt mate, who sank his second try to bring the Bears within three.
After Crabbe made a pair of free throws with seven minutes to go, Cobbs hit a jumper to give Cal its first lead since the opening minutes of the game.
The Bears struggled all game to contain Nelson, who scored in a myriad of ways — pull-up jumpers, twisting drives, offensive rebound putbacks. The Beavers were on fire in the first half, shooting 60 percent from the field, but cooled down considerably in the second, making just 33 percent of their shots.
“We really talked about never getting behind the screen, and we probably did three or four times, and Nelson and just got up and shot it in,” Montgomery said. “We made too many mental mistakes, and they capitalized on those mistakes.”
Cal was led once again by Crabbe, who tallied 15 points. The junior shot only 3-of-11 from long range, as the squad put up 26 threes to just two free throw attempts.
Solomon and David Kravish each chipped in a dozen points, giving the Bears four players in double figures.
Jonathan Kuperberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]