“We competed with great belief and execution most of the game,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox following the Bears’ stunning 78-64 win over the Ducks.
While Cal is an underdog in most of its Pac-12 matchups, this was especially the case in Saturday’s game: Cal had lost 10 of its past 11 games while Oregon had won its past four games and was sitting with an overall 16-7 record.
From the outside looking in, the Bears had plenty of reason to have a shortage of belief.
Luckily for the blue and gold, graduate transfer guard Jordan Shepherd thought otherwise.
Shepherd had the game of his life, scoring a career-high 33 points on efficient shooting splits: 9-15 from the floor, 2-3 from distance and 13-15 from the foul line. Moreover, the 6’4” guard was the Bears’ only scorer in double digits.
As expected, Cal fell into a 12-5 hole less than five minutes into the game. Considering the Bears’ Pac-12 play this season, it was easy for Cal fans to chalk this up as a loss and turn off the TV.
Those who stayed were those who were rewarded, as Cal pulled off its most magical run of the Fox-era 12 seconds after Oregon’s 12th point. The Bears ripped off 24 unanswered points in just more than eight minutes; fittingly, the run started and ended with Shepherd.
“If you look at the matchups, we have some advantages,” Fox said on the 24-0 run. “And it’s harder to score against us, and our defense was key during that stretch.”
While a brief look at the box score might suggest the Bears’ offense was clicking on all cylinders, as Fox suggested, Cal’s defense was actually the reason for the win.
Although Oregon’s leading scorer Will Richardson still had 22 points on a shooting percentage of 50 from the field, the Bears did not allow him to get comfortable from 3, where he shot just 1-4 (he is shooting a percentage of 43.7 from distance on the season). Furthermore, Cal’s strategy of playing off of the others worked wonders, as Oregon shot a brutal 5-27 from distance.
The Bears also made sure to clean up on the glass, as they outrebounded Oregon 36-31; more specifically, Cal outrebounded Oregon 32-22 on the defensive boards.
This will likely be the blue and gold’s game of the year, but there were still many facets of the game they could have improved on.
First, the turnovers.
Cal had 17 turnovers in the match (Oregon had just 11), which led to 20 points for the Ducks. As expected from these numbers, Oregon also outscored Cal 16-8 in fast-break points.
It is critical that the Bears take care of the ball better in the final stretch of the season, as without a Herculean effort from Shepherd, this game could have gotten ugly for Cal.
Second-chance points are an efficient way for offenses to score, as the defense is usually scrambling. Although the Bears outrebounded the Ducks, Oregon still snagged nine offensive boards, which led to 8 second-chance points; Cal had just four, leading to 4 points.
Aside from the turnovers and offensive boards, the Bears should be proud of their efforts. They pulled off the biggest upset in the Pac-12 this season and performed. Whether it be something as mundane as hitting 20-24 free throws or Shepherd’s thunderous slam to cap off a stunning first half, Cal had a game to remember.
This Oregon trip could have gone sideways easily, but the blue and gold found a way to right the ship and gave themselves a shot at redeeming this season following a 10-game losing streak.
With some belief and luck, the Bears could make some noise in their final five games.