By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, CA–Two weeks ago, a visit from a ranked opponent would have resulted in a lopsided loss for the Cal Bears. On Thursday night at Haas Pavilion, No. 11 Oregon got all they could handle from the improving Bears in a 75-72 win that had the Ducks sweating in the final minute. How’s that?
The Bears, for one of the only times all season, showed a varied, effective offense that had them even at halftime and leading 52-45 with 11 minutes remaining. At that point, Payton Pritchard, arguably the Pac-12’s best player, took over and led the Ducks to a big win that keeps them at the top of the conference standings with a 7-2 record.
“I was trying to be aggressive right away.” Pritchard said of mindset starting the second half of a tied game. “We made a run there and made something happen.”
Pritchard led the Ducks with 21 points, long-armed, defensive whiz Chris Duarte added 19 and Will Richardson contributed 15. For Cal, Matt Bradley got hot in the second half, scoring 20 of his game-best 25 points.
Early on the Bears got the best of what freshman Lars Theimann has offered thus far in Cal career. The 7’0″ center made all four of his shot attempts, scoring eight points, that gave the Bears’ attack some inside-out balance. From outside, Bradley, Grant Anticevich and Kareem South combined to make nine 3-pointers.
In a game ultimately decided by just three points, the Bears will remember their empty possessions that resulted in 14 turnovers, and their lack of bench contributions with 70 of their 72 points coming from the starters. But for a team again trying to avoid the basement in the Pac-12, the effort may have been their best so far, and a clear sign the embattled group is sticking together, and showing some improvement.
In the end, Pritchard with his ability to drive, shoot and make flawless decisions along with the Ducks’ trapping defenses made the difference in a surprisingly close game.