As the final weeks of Pac-12 play draw near, the Cal men’s basketball team is well into its final push to impress the NCAA selection committee.
Ranked seventh in conference with a 6-5, 16-8 overall, record. the Bears find themselves on lists of bubble-watch teams that typically includes seven other Pac-12 programs — indicating both a remarkable degree of parity and a high level of uncertainty in the Pac-12 heading into the end of the regular season. This also means that if Cal is going to separate itself from the pack, even its performances against “middling” teams in the conference will be important come tournament selection time.
The Bears’ home game against Oregon State on Saturday is a clear example of that type of contest. The Beavers currently sit just behind the Bears in the Pac-12 at eighth in the conference with a 6-6 Pac-12, 15-8 overall, record. Like Cal, Oregon State has a handful of impressive conference wins such as its victories over now-No. 11 Oregon and now-No. 23 USC, but also a bundle of bad losses, including defeats at the hands of Arizona State and Stanford. The Bears come in on similar footing, having just notched a marquee win over Oregon Thursday night to add to a resume that also includes a victory over No. 17 Arizona. But Cal has also fallen to both the Beavers and the Cardinal in games that hardly looked close.
Those mixed messages make Saturday’s rematch at Haas Pavilion that much more critical for both programs. With each racing toward selection Sunday, a win for either team is beginning to look more like a must rather than a boost.
For the Beavers, repeating its success from Corvallis, Oregon, will likely come down to the same principles that limited the Bears’ production the last time around: a slow-paced game that kept Cal’s points in transition minimal and a defensive effort that led to 16 turnovers by the Bears. Yet Oregon State will also need to make sure it can capitalize on the opportunities it creates on offense — a task the Beavers have struggled with this season. With one of the lowest-place scoring offense in the Pac-12, Oregon State will have its work cut out against Cal, whose methodical man-to-man defense ranks first in the conference.
Additionally, the team that the Beavers meet Saturday will look substantially different from the squad it faced a month ago. Without senior guard Tyrone Wallace, the Bears have seen more minutes from point guard Sam Singer, who, as a pass-first guard, presents Oregon State with a slightly different, though struggling, offensive look than it saw with Wallace at the helm.
Meanwhile, center Kameron Rooks has also stepped into a larger role than the redshirt sophomore enjoyed earlier this season, providing a physical rebounding presence under the basket. In the Bears’ victory over Stanford last weekend, the seven-footer notched his first career double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. In what will likely be a defensive battle against Oregon State, the Bears’ performance on the boards from the likes of Rooks and Ivan Rabb will be critical.
“Most guys love to score the ball, and (Rooks) wants to score,” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin. “But (Rooks) takes a serious amount of pride in trying to be a good defender.”