Don’t whine, it’s over at nine: Cal squeezes past Oregon State to end losing streak

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Photo courtesy of D. Ross Cameron/USA Today

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Stay together. Continue to fight. Even for first-year Cal coach Wyking Jones, repeating those rallying cry phrases carried little significance without putting one in the win column.

Finally, after more than a month, Jones’ Bears have that win.

Kingsley Okoroh registered his first career double-double and the Bears used a big, first half run to get past Oregon State, 74-70 at Haas Pavilion on Saturday night.

The Bears had dropped nine in a row, one off the school-record 10 losses established in 1962. But throughout, players and coaches remained positive and hopeful the streak could be broken.

“Our guys stayed together and believed in each other,” Jones said. “We challenged them to run their shooters off the line and we were okay with giving up two-point contested field goals. The threes add up quick so that was the main focus defensively — it was just to not give up open looks from three. We also made a ton of hustle plays.”

The Bears started slow, and trailed by as many as 10 early. But the response was immediate: Cal scored 30 of the game’s next 40 points to establish their own double-digit lead, and then led 36-28 at the half. OSU was held scoreless for more than six minutes during the run, and shot just 38 percent from the floor in the opening 20 minutes.

Unlike the previous month of Cal basketball, the Bears held it together under the adversity of a deficit on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, the Beavers unraveled, likely under the road woes they’ve endured in losing 18 straight true road contests.

“It is frustrating, but we’ve got to stay positive,” OSU coach Wayne Tinkle said. “Toughness and discipline wins on the road, and we’ve got to continue to establish that.”

Still, Oregon State applied the pressure with an 8-0 run to lead 57-56 with 6:47 remaining. But Cal’s response–Darius McNeill’s 3-pointer–was immediate, and the Bears never again trailed.

The ragged nature of the ballgame–surprisingly free of turnovers, but littered with 51 foul calls–no doubt had both coaches on edge. But Cal (8-16, 2-9) found away to exploit the situation by making 29 of 39 from the stripe, as big as a surprise as the win itself given Cal’s season-long struggles at the foul line.  In the final 3:30 with the game in the balance, the Bears sunk 11 of 14 to seal it.

“Coach yesterday made us shoot free throws for 30 minutes straight,” Okoroh recalled. “We just all sat around and shot free throws in silence, and it paid off today.”

McNeill led Cal with 16 points, Marcus Lee and Okoroh added 14, and Justice Sueing had 11. Sueing has scored in double figures in all 11 conference games, and did so Saturday despite foul trouble that limited him to six minutes in the first half.

“I’m just very happy for our guys,” Jones said. “Throughout all the losses, throughout all the tough breaks, they’ve been able to continue to fight and continue to stay together.”

Steven Thompson Jr. led OSU (11-11, 3-7) with 24 points, and Tres Tinkle added 19.

The Bears continue Pac-12 play on Wednesday at Colorado followed by a visit to Salt Lake City to face Utah.

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