By Morris Phillips
More than 200 years after the Oregon Trail was established, there were the Golden Bears trapping opponents, and trading their tarnished reputations for new ones draped in respect on Super Bowl weekend.
Yes, winning first at Oregon State, then shocking the NCAA-hopeful Oregon Ducks, 78-64 on Saturday afternoon demands some historical perspective for Cal hoops. The first win for the Bears in Eugene since 2014 was also was biggest win in coach Mark Fox’s tenure in Berkeley. The embattled coach’s remarks afterwards slyly interpreted the occasion.
“This isn’t about me,” Fox said. “This is about trying to re-establish Cal basketball. We came here expecting to win.”
Getting the opportunity to say what you wouldn’t dare say before you stop a crippling, 10-game losing streak is wholly satisfying. Getting to say it in a manner that defends your methods and personality even more so. Fox earned that opportunity on Saturday, and selflessly spread the wealth.
“During that stretch, you find out who’s with you and who’s not,” Fox said of the losing streak’s effect on his team. “And those kids in there never wavered.”
What the Bears accomplished on Saturday was nothing less than shocking in its manner and impact. After a leisurely start that saw the visitors fall behind 12-5, a timeout hatched a 24-0 run that had Cal in control, leading 29-12 with 7:19 remaining before the break. During the timeout, Fox reiterated to his club not to force the issue at the rim with the athletic Ducks, but instead take what Oregon’s zone look would afford.
“We said, take the midrange jumper,” Fox said of his message. “It’s still a good shot in basketball.”
Jordan Shepherd connected from the free throw line extended first, then less than a minute later, Kuany Kuany buried a jumper from nearly the same spot. Sam Alajiki hit a 3, then Lars Thiemann followed with a layup while fouled, and he hit the following free throw.
On the other end, Oregon (16-8, 9-4) committed a pair of turnovers, then missed two 3-pointers. Their Matthew Knight Arena crowd grew quiet, and Cal kept up the onslaught. Ultimately, the Ducks would misfire 10 consecutive shots, and the 3’s that had carried them–Oregon leads the Pac-12 in shooting percentage from distance at 36 percent–would be their worst enemy. Against Cal, the Ducks were 5 for 27 from distance.
“We came out and gave them easy baskets to start the game,” OU coach Dana Altman said. “They got rolling, and we could never get it stopped. And then on offense our ball movement wasn’t good, we missed some open shots and maybe tightened up a bit.”
Shepherd led the Bears (11-15, 4-11) with 33 points on 9 for 15 shooting from the floor. No one else was in double-digits for Cal, Grant Anticevich, Jalen Celestine and Makale Foreman each scored eight points.
The Bears enjoyed a healthy advantage on the glass early, limiting the Ducks to one shot on most possessions. The final rebounding numbers were 36-31 for Cal, but the first half, when the game was decided, greatly favored Cal.
The Bears shot 53 percent for the game, and didn’t allow themselves to be hurt by their 17 turnovers once they gained control.
On Thursday, the Bears get the unique opportunity to further reiterate their resurgence in a meeting with Colorado on Thursday at 6:30pm at Haas Pavilion.