With all hope of making the NCAA tournament contingent on a strong showing in the Pac-12 tournament, the fifth-seeded Cal men’s basketball team needed a victory in the first round. Matched up against Oregon State, against whom they picked up their only win of the past six games, the Bears barely eked out the same result. The game was likely too close for comfort for Cal, but it earned a critical 67-62 win to advance to the second round and keep its postseason aspirations alive.
In the team’s most important game of the season thus far, Cal forward Ivan Rabb — an All-Pac-12 First Team selection this year — saw his recent shooting woes persist. Rabb, who combined for 19 points on 4/14 shooting in his last two outings, missed multiple shot attempts around the rim in the first half. Despite his tenacity on the glass, Rabb’s 4/11 shooting mark did little to alleviate the Bears’ offensive struggles.
Defensively, Cal struggled to contain Oregon State’s three-point shooting throughout the game. The Beavers shot 10/17 from beyond the arc, including three triples from center Gligorije Rakocevic. Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh, the Bears’ duo of 7-foot centers, lacked the lateral quickness to chase down Rakocevic to the perimeter and allowed him to get uncontested three-point attempts.
Cal built its largest lead of the half at 28-21 with a 5-0 run that included two scores in transition, a corner three from Bird and a fastbreak layup from guard Sam Singer, and a defensive sequence in which the Bears smothered Oregon State into a shot clock violation. By the end of the period, Cal’s advantage had dwindled to just three points, 32-29.
The Bears traded blows with the Beavers for the majority of the second half, scoring in spurts but unable to pull away from Oregon State. Cal led 39-32 about five minutes into the second period, but sophomore guard Stephen Thompson Jr. hit back-to-back three-pointers to cut the lead to one point. Minutes later, the Bears stretched the lead back to eight points with consecutive triples from freshman guard Charlie Moore and senior guard Jabari Bird. The Beavers responded with five straight points to bring the score to 47-44.
While Cal’s offense was largely inconsistent, Bird provided a steadying presence with his sharpshooting. Bird led the team in scoring with 20 points on 7/12 shooting, including 3/6 from three-point range.
His most important points came in the final 90 seconds of the game, when the Bears held a slim two-point lead. A messy offensive possession for Cal ended in a missed, contested floater from Moore. On the other end, a defensive miscue allowed Oregon State to shoot a wide-open triple. Airball.
Cal quickly gathered the rebound, and Jabari Bird soared ahead for a dunk in transition. He powered through contact from the defense to score, and he converted the and-one opportunity to put his team ahead 62-57 with 53 seconds on the clock, sealing the game for the Bears.
Arguably the biggest surprise of the game for the Bears was the scoring contribution from redshirt senior Stephen Domingo, who at one point led all scorers with seven points in the first 12 minutes. Domingo has been an inefficient offensive option all season long, averaging just 2.1 points per game on 20.2 percent shooting from the field and a miserable 44.4 percent from the free-throw line. But in this game, with the Bears desperate for points, Domingo delivered. He finished with 10 points and, most impressive of all, shot 2/5 on threes and 2/2 on free-throws.
Cal will need to continue to receive significant scoring contributions from its role players in order to compete offensively in whatever remains of its tournament slate. But, most importantly, the Bears need Rabb to break out of his shooting slump and be the dominant inside force that he’s been touted as.
Kapil Kashyap covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]