Cal men’s basketball shows toughness, growth in tight loss to Oregon

Photo of Grant Anticevich of Cal Men's Basketball going up for a layup
Sunny Shen/Senior Staff

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As 2020 came to a close Thursday evening, Cal men’s basketball was hoping to do something it hasn’t done since 2014: beat Oregon on its own floor in Eugene.

Unfortunately for the Bears, it wasn’t meant to be, and they fell short with a final score of 82-69. But just as with everything else in the past year, it’s necessary to look for silver linings.

While the blue and gold may not have pulled off the upset against the No. 21 Ducks, they showed tremendous poise playing behind enemy lines in a prime-time spot. Going toe-to-toe with one of the Pac-12’s best teams is not something many would have expected of the Bears before the season began.

One should look no further than last season’s final matchup between Cal and Oregon — when the Bears were played off the floor in a 34-point loss — to see how much improvement head coach Mark Fox has brought to the program.

After missing the past two games with an ankle injury, junior guard Matt Bradley, who leads the Pac-12 in scoring, made his return to the Bears’ lineup. As expected, he was Cal’s go-to option, leading the Bears with 21 points, 15 of which came in the first half. However, besides Makale Foreman, who had 14 of his own, the blue and gold did not have any double-digit scorers.

A lack of offensive firepower down the stretch ultimately cost Cal the game, but in the first half, that certainly wasn’t the case. Bradley was feeling it, draining four of his five three-point attempts, helping the Bears to a 50% three-point percentage in the first period.

After going down by as much as seven, Cal’s ability to score in bunches helped the squad reel off a 17-3 run that put them up by seven with less than three minutes left before halftime. The highlight of the sequence came when Foreman splashed back-to-back triples.

Throughout the game, Oregon deployed a full-court press, forcing Cal to share the ball before the half-court line and never letting any individual feel truly comfortable — near the end of the first half, however, Bradley took advantage of the lack of defenders getting back and found a wide-open Ryan Betley streaking to the basket for an easy layup. The bucket kept the Bears’ lead at 35-32.

But it was a game of runs, and every time the Bears built a lead, the Ducks’ experience helped them claw back in it. A late surge from Oregon was capped off by an awkward half-court heave from sophomore guard Aaron Estrada that somehow found the bottom of the net and gave Oregon a one-point lead at halftime. Being down just one after 20 minutes and showing resilience after an early deficit, Cal was seemingly overperforming.

The second half, similar to the first, was close for the most part until a late run helped the Ducks pull away. Coming into the game, it was clear that the blue and gold would have to contain Oregon’s Eugene Omoruyi and Chris Duarte if they hoped to win. But in the second period, the tandem broke loose on its home floor.

Omoruyi poured in 11 second-half points on 4-7 shooting, ending with a game-high total of 26. Duarte, meanwhile, scored 14 of his 19 points in the second period. Down the stretch, it was clear that the Ducks had been there before, whereas the Bears simply hadn’t, and the veteran presence of Omoruyi and Duarte was a big reason why.

A running floater from Bradley cut Oregon’s lead to two with less than seven minutes to play in the contest, but turnovers plagued Cal, and another run from the Ducks closed the book on New Year’s Eve. While it wasn’t the ideal ending for the Bears, it is clear how much growing they have done in an unprecedented year.

The new year has brought a renewed sense of hope. If Cal can continue to compete hard, as they did on the last night of 2020, the wins should come — and come soon.

Kabir Rao is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @kabirr26.