Fowl play: Cal flies to Eugene to take on Ducks

Addison Briggs/Staff

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On Thursday, Cal will travel north for its final two games of the 2019-20 regular season. First on the agenda for the Bears will be No. 13 Oregon, which currently sits in second in the Pac-12. The blue and gold are sitting pretty at eighth in the conference and will be hoping to keep their narrow lead over Washington State with the Pac-12 tournament on the horizon.

Last time out, the Bears were able to make it close against the Ducks, but ultimately fell short, 77-72. Sophomore Matt Bradley had a standout game in the teams’ first matchup, scoring 25 points and keeping Cal competitive until the final whistle. The game came down to Oregon standout guard Payton Pritchard, who turned on late. After going 1-3 in the first half, Pritchard exploded for 21 points on the night, turning the tides and bringing Oregon the victory.

A month later, the Bears are looking significantly better than they did when they played Oregon last time out. The Bears are currently on a two-game winning streak after closing out their home season with victories over then-No.21 Colorado and Utah.

The Bears’ last victory was an overtime thriller that bumped Cal up several spots in the Pac-12 rankings and broke away from the Utes that now sit in the 10th seed.

Bradley put in 21 points and forward Andre Kelly added 15 of his own to secure the victory. The Bears finally came together offensively against Utah, and even against Colorado. The offense may actually have some rhythm to it now, which will be key to beat Oregon and make a run in the Pac-12 tournament. 

The story of the season for the Bears has been above average defense and terrible offense. The blue and gold allowed 77 points to Oregon earlier, and while they did put in a decent 72 of their own, it just wasn’t enough. Lately, the Cal offense has looked like it can outperform last time’s 72-point performance — and if the defense can have its usual outing, the Bears could find themselves in a close matchup again. 

A win over the Ducks would also give the Bears their second win over a top-25 opponent this season, their first coming against the Buffs last weekend. With a lot on the line this road trip, expect head coach Mark Fox and the Bears to hold nothing back. 

On paper, it should be an easy victory for Oregon. The Ducks are a top-15 team in the nation, they’re at home, they have one of the best players in the country in Pritchard and the Bears’ offense is one of the worst in the NCAA.

But the thing is, it’s March. Whether it’s too early to call March Madness remains to be seen — but Cal and Oregon are both fighting for positioning in the Pac-12 tournament, making this a game worth watching no matter what.

Bradley is surely a player to watch, like always, as he’s averaging 17.9 points per game this season and is coming off of back-to-back 20-plus point games in the Bears’ recent home sweep. Another player to watch is Kelly, who has stepped up his play lately and become one of the Bears’ most important players, crashing the offensive glass relentlessly with at least one offensive board in each of the last 10 games.

Cal will also be hoping to get to the line as much as possible against Oregon. The Bears have struggled to score from the field this year, but on the positive side, guards Bradley and Paris Austin both rank in the top-100 nationally for free-throw percentage.

In its last road game, Cal played maybe its worst offensive game all year, possibly even worse than the 40-point outing at UCLA. The Bears scored just 52 points against Washington, but the worst part was that they shot 23.9% from the field and had to rely on 28 of those points to come from the charity stripe, where they shot 16-16 in the first half.

If Cal can knock down shots from the field and get to the line at this rate, the offense could potentially outscore Oregon with a good defensive performance as well. The Bears only have one victory away from Haas, but with a lot on the line this week, there’s no better time for the blue and gold to get their second road win.

Tipoff will take place Thursday at 8:00 p.m. and can be streamed on ESPN2.

Jack Whaley covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @_jackdouglas_.