Cal men’s basketball travels to face No. 23 Oregon

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On Tuesday’s postgame conference, Mike Montgomery sat through nearly eight minutes of a bombardment of questions about his shove against Allen Crabbe on Sunday.

The Cal men’s basketball coach reiterated his apology from the get-go and rephrased the apology in different ways many times.

“There’s no place in sports that you can basically put your hands on your student-athlete,” Montgomery said. “I apologize to Allen, I apologize to the team. It’s something I deeply regret.”

When the curiosity subsided and the interview turned to the Thursday night game against No. 23 Oregon, Montgomery finally was able to talk about what he knows best: Cal basketball.

Winning five of their last six games, the Bears are riding a wave of momentum to the Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore. Cal’s recent push toward March Madness started against the first-place Ducks (21-4, 10-3 in the Pac-12) on Feb. 2.

The Bears (16-9, 8-5) edged past then-No. 10 Oregon, 58-54, at home — the first time Cal defeated a top-10 team since 2008. The Bears ground out a win in a defensive affair, overcoming its shooting deficiencies — hitting only 35.6 percent of its shots — by forcing 22 turnovers.

One of the biggest reasons why Cal was able to shut down Oregon was the absence of guard Dominic Artis. The freshman guard, who was averaging 10.2 points and 3.8 assists per game, has been out since Jan. 23 due to a foot injury.

While Montgomery at the press conference believed Artis might play, developing stories around the Ducks camp point to Artis sitting out the Cal game.

“Well, they have expected him back this weekend, and now they are saying it’s day to day,” Montgomery said. “I don’t know what else you would say. I don’t think you would announce that he would play.”

To Oregon, Artis’ injury meant losing the main ball handler and distributor. The first two weeks without Artis were tough on the Ducks, as they lost three straight games.

But Oregon has bounced back, winning three straight after the skid. The brunt of the newfound success can be found in the four other starters each stepping up to take on a bigger role.

“I think they have adjusted to who has to do what,” Montgomery said. “(Artis) had a role in the scoring part of it, and they were not adjusting to not have a scoring role.”

Forward E.J. Singler has filled in as the primary scorer for the Ducks lineup. In the recent games against Utah and Washington State, Singler led Oregon to victory with 22- and 25-point performances, respectively.

Oregon’s lack of a No. 1 scoring option is made up on most days by the deep roster depth. The Ducks share shooting duties among four starters that average double-digit points per game.

As Montgomery acknowledges, this Oregon squad is no different than the one that lost at Haas Pavilion. But they are more comfortable under their skin sans Artis. That makes them more dangerous than ever.

Seung Y. Lee covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @sngyn92.