After 10 consecutive losses to the Bears stretching back to 2008, it looked like No. 23 Oregon had found a way to end the streak. Despite struggling to score for nearly all 40 minutes of Thursday’s Pac-12 game at Matthew Knight Arena, the Ducks controlled the game defensively and led for nearly the entire contest.
Oregon defended and rebounded with passion. The effort was there, but the aim was not. With the score tied 46-46, Oregon turned it over once and missed two field goal attempts on their final three possessions. After rebounding the final Duck shot, the Bears called time out with 26 seconds left. Working the clock to the end, the Bears found Jason Cobbs on the left wing and the 6’3″ junior guard drained a step-back jumper with 0.7 left to shock the first-place Ducks, 48-46.
The heartbreaking loss drops Oregon, 21-6 overall, into a first-place tie with Arizona and UCLA at 10-4, while California improves to 17-9 and 9-5 in the Pac-12, just one game out of the lead. The Bears are the hottest team in the conference at the moment, winning four in a row and six of their last seven games.
Coach Dana Altman said, “You can’t fault the effort. Our guys played awfully hard, but you’ve got to hit shots.”
On this night, the Ducks couldn’t. Both teams struggled offensively in the first half, shooting under 30 percent, but Cal ramped its shooting up to 57% in the final period and 41% for the game, while the Ducks could only connect on 27.6% of their field goal attempts (16 of 58).
Altman said, “I’m not sure my team’s ever shot 27 percent.”
The Ducks missed inside. The Ducks missed outside. And the Ducks missed out on a great opportunity to retain sole possession of first place in the league race, which is now down to four games remaining.
Searching for an explanation for his team’s shooting woes, Altman said, “The offense didn’t have a lot of flow to it. We took too many threes. When we had them in the double bonus (early in the second half), we didn’t take it into them.”
The Ducks had open shots on many possessions, but often struggled with Cal’s mix of man and zone defenses. Altman said, “There were a few questionable shots, but we had some good looks. We just didn’t knock them down. E.J.’s a good shooter, but he didn’t shoot it well tonight. Johnny didn’t shoot it well. Dot didn’t shoot it well. At some point in time, you’ve got to have somebody step up and hit shots, whether it’s free throws, and/or jumpers.”
Oregon could have helped themselves more from the free throw line, as the Ducks hit only 6 of 11 shots in the second half. Altman pointed to that as a key to the game. “Free throws…we took it in there and we got to the line. We just didn’t finish enough free throws. I think that was as big of a thing as anything.”
Singler, who has been through more of the 11 Cal losses than any other Oregon player, summed it up by saying, “It just hurts. I thought just the way our team played, I thought we played hard. That was just a tough way to lose.”
The loss overshadowed a terrific individual effort from Arsalan Kazemi, who recorded his 52nd career double-double and seventh this year by grabbing a season-high 18 rebounds and scoring 11 points. 14 of those boards came in the first half. Altman said, “He was unbelievable on the boards, especially in the first half. I thought he really played hard, but I thought everybody played hard.”
Kazemi, Oregon’s hustle leader, also recorded four steals, and if such statistics were kept, he would have led all players hitting the floor. He was the victim of a direct flagrant elbow to the face with 4:53 left, which initially was not called. Only after reviewing game film was it called by the officials. Kazemi, in a daze, was forced to leave the game momentarily.
As a sixth man, Carlos Emory sparked Oregon, leading the Ducks in scoring with 13 points. He and Kazemi were the only Duck scorers in double figures. Jonathan Loyd had a career-high five steals, and also recorded four assists in 35 minutes, the most played by any Duck.
The Ducks out-rebounded the Bears, 39-37, outscored Cal on second chance opportunities, 15-2, had 12 steals to Cal’s 4, and committed just 10 turnovers to 16 by the Bears. But all the statistical advantages weren’t enough to break the long losing streak.
Cobbs, after netting the game-winner for California, said, “I was just trying to help my team find a way to win. I had to make up for my eight turnovers.” His dagger was his 14th point on the night, and he was joined in double figures by Allen Crabbe, who scored 12 for Cal.
There is no time for the Ducks to contemplate the what ifs from Thursday night’s narrow defeat, as Stanford rolls into town for a Saturday afternoon game. The Cardinal handed the Ducks their worst loss of the season three weeks ago in Palo Alto, and are fresh off an 82-72 road victory over Oregon State last night.
For the Ducks to maintain their tenuous grip on first-place and their quest for a league title, to compete for the crown at the Pac-12 tournament, and to dream of the Big Dance, the ball needs to find the hoop.