In its penultimate home game of the season, Cal men’s basketball had arguably its most impressive defensive half against Oregon. The Bears held the Ducks — the Pac-12’s No.2 scoring offense — to just 16 points in the first half and a horrid 29.2 percent shooting from the field. But in the end, it didn’t matter.
After tallying just five points in first half, Oregon’s leading scorer Dillon Brooks poured in 17 points in the second, including the game’s deciding shot. On the final possession of the game, with the score tied 65-65, Brooks delivered with a pull-up three with 0.3 seconds on the clock to give the Ducks a thrilling 68-65 victory.
“He made a big shot, he made a tough shot,” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin. “It’s tough in a situation like that, but that’s a shot he normally shoots.”
Like Brooks, Ivan Rabb, Cal’s leading scorer, struggled from the field early in the game, but his struggles persisted. Rabb, who grabbed eight rebounds in the first half, was unable to convert on putbacks and finishes around the rim — a staple for him — and finished with only 10 points. Despite Rabb’s scoring struggles, Cal’s offense was able to thrive as a result of its perimeter shooting and put up 30 points before halftime.
Through the first 20 minutes, Cal’s perimeter threats combined for five three-pointers on 55.6 percent shooting from long range. Senior guard Jabari Bird led the way for the Bears with a perfect three for three mark from beyond the arc in the first half, and he finished with a team-high 20 points. Graduate transfer Grant Mullins chipped in two triples of his own to account for six of his 11 points.
As the second half progressed, the Bears’ shooters cooled off and their defense wilted. On one defensive sequence, Brooks carved through Cal’s defense for an uncontested layup at the rim, causing Rabb and junior Kingsley Okoroh to exchange bewildered looks. With 13 minutes remaining in the game, Oregon cut the deficit to just nine points: 39-30.
“I thought we broke down defensively in quite a few areas in the second half,” Martin said.
Midway through the second half, the Ducks adjusted their defensive strategy. Oregon committed to the full-court press and sent heavy pressure at Cal’s ball-handler every time the ball was brought up the floor. Often times, this led to a Bear being double-teamed in a corner, which is what the Ducks wanted. But, after committing a number of careless mistakes in the first half, the Bears tightened up their passing and countered the press effectively.
With less than 7:30 remaining, Cal held a 10-point lead but found itself handicapped by foul trouble. Both Mullins and guard Sam Singer, who had combined for 10 points at the time, racked up four fouls, limiting their ability to contribute — especially defensively — for the rest of the game.
The Bears’ lead dwindled to just five points with five minutes remaining in the game, until the ball found its way to Mullins in the left corner. Oregon’s Dylan Ennis lept into the air prematurely, so Mullins pumped his way into three free-throw opportunities. He converted all three to give the Bears an eight point lead, 57-49.
While Cal handled Oregon’s press well for the majority of the game, freshman Charlie Moore and Singer made costly turnovers in the final three minutes to gratify the Ducks’ efforts. On both plays, Cal looked to exploit Oregon’s slow setup of its half-court defense by making a crosscourt pass to advance the ball. Both times, the Bears threw it right into the hands of the Ducks, and Oregon capitalized on each mistake by scoring on the other end.
In the final 90 seconds, Mullins made a contested fall-away jumper to give the Bears a one-point lead, until Brooks erased it with a jumper of his own. After a made free-throw by the Ducks, Rabb scored on a tip-in to tie up the game with nine seconds remaining. But Brooks’ last-second three-pointer undid all of Cal’s efforts, silenced Haas Pavilion and deflated the Bears, whose chances at making the NCAA tournament are now in jeopardy.
Kapil Kashyap covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]