No. 24 Cal men’s basketball advances to semifinals of Pac-12 Tournament after 76-68 win over Oregon State

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With fewer than seven minutes to play in the game, the two Pac-12 teams could not be closer. A shocking performance from Oregon State’s freshman guard Derrick Bruce and a hot start from the Bears’ junior guard Jabari Bird — combined with tough defensive play — had left the teams locked neck and neck.

A quick pass from Bruce in traffic to senior guard Gary Payton II for a wide open three gave the Beavers their first lead of the day, 55-54.

But in the end, Cal did just a little bit more Thursday night.

On the Bears’ next possession, senior guard Tyrone Wallace found Bird for a three of his own.

And it was responses such as these that gave the third-seeded team in the Pac-12 a trip to the semifinals after the No. 24 Bears (23-9) won 76-68 over the sixth-seeded Beavers (19-12).

Bird’s dominant performance started early in the game, scoring 10 points in the opening six minutes, leading the Bears to a 14-5 lead.

After both teams missed a few shots, Cal continued to make the beginning of the game look easy with a Bird dunk and Jordan Mathews adding on a three-point play, bringing the Bears’ lead out to a game-high 12 points.

A jumper by Bruce quickly shortened the Bears’ early dominance, as Cal went on to score only five points over a seven-minute stretch.

And Bruce’s night only improved from there. The freshman went on to score Oregon State’s next nine points. The Beaver — who had a career-high night — averaged only three points a game coming into Thursday but ended the first half with 15 points.

Mathews ensured that the Bears went into the half with the lead, however, scoring his second three of the game with about 30 seconds left to play. Stephen Thompson Jr. continued his role as one of the top scorers for the Beavers, scoring a layup before the zeros flashed on the clock with Cal going into the Las Vegas locker rooms with a 34-30 lead.

Cal’s half could not have started more differently than it ended. The Bears began the half shooting 7-10 and ended shooting 5-18, and they shot a total of 43 percent in the half to Oregon State’s 38 percent.

A perfectly timed pass from Wallace to Ivan Rabb led to a dunk and an early second-half dominance. Payton, however, had only two points and four turnovers early into the second half.

But the gaps in Cal’s defense against Payton started to show as he was able to score four consecutive points early in the second half. The Beavers kept the Bears on their toes by finding success against a usually stingy defense, including two three-pointers from Bruce and four more points from Payton.

And what a night Bruce continued to have.

After a powerful block by Payton — who had 17 rebounds — which completely shut Wallace down, Bruce hit a three from the corner, tying the game for the Beavers at 49 apiece. But Bird scored a three of his own immediately after.

Rabb ended up being Cal’s most effective freshman, recording a double-double in the game and finishing with 21 points and 15 rebounds. But Bruce got hotter and hotter in the second half, so the Bears moved Wallace over to defend him. A switch on defense that resulted in Rabb guarding Bruce allowed him to find an open Payton and resulted in the three that gave the Beavers’ their first lead.

The game stayed close, however, with the teams trading leads in the last 10 minutes of the game. But at the end of the night, it was the Bears’ defense and Mathews that saved the game for Cal. A three with 35 seconds to play by the junior sealed the victory, jumping Cal out to a 73-65 lead. Add in free throws and Cal won, despite lackluster performances from Jaylen Brown and Wallace, who combined for 2-15 from the field.

“This time of year, it’s anyone’s game,” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin. “I don’t think you can use ‘young’ to describe this team anymore.”

Alaina Getzenberg covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].Follow her on Twitter @agetzenberg.