Enigmatic Cal blows out Oregon but still must prove road mettle
Few teams have been playing better than No. 11 Oregon over the last few weeks, but on Thursday night the Ducks were brought back to Earth in Berkeley courtesy of an 83–63 rout by California in a game that was never close.
Tyrone Wallace returned for the Golden Bears, junior Jabari Bird exploded for a season-high 24 points and added six rebounds, two steals and this reverse dunk, and dynamic freshmen forwards Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb combined for 29 points. It all made for Oregon’s worst loss of the season and continued the inconsistent narrative that has defined Cal’s season.
At 16–8, the Bears have been one of the more perplexing cases in this unpredictable college basketball season, but what it really comes down to is that this is an excellent team at home and a very different one on the road. Cal is 15–0 at Haas Pavilion this season, 1–6 on the road (the one win being an overtime victory over Wyoming) and 0–2 at neutral sites.
Young and highly talented, Cal is the kind of team that could be very dangerous in the NCAA tournament if it puts everything together. What the Golden Bears did in picking apart an excellent team in Oregon on Thursday is a testament to that. But if they don’t figure out how to win away from home, they will face an early exit in the tournament as a lower seed. Cal has to hope that the return of Wallace, its senior point guard who missed five games with a broken bone in his hand and who’s second on the team in scoring, will be a steadying hand that can help this team grow when away from its friendly confines.
For Oregon, the loss is a setback that tightens up the Pac-12 race. Losing to California on the road is nothing to be ashamed of, but losing in a blowout isn’t a good showing for a team that earned the No. 5 overall seed in an NCAA tournament “Mock Selection” done by members of the media earlier Thursday.
The Ducks, who are led by sophomore forward Dillon Brooks and who hold one of the nation’s top offenses, still control their Pac-12 destiny with a one-game lead over second-place USC. But Oregon has a chance to nab a top NCAA tournament seed and can’t avoid many more slip-ups to get there. Its resume remains very strong, with wins against Baylor, USC, at Arizona and two over Utah. Depending on what happens down the stretch run of the season, the Ducks’ regular-season finale at USC could wind up determining the Pac-12 winner.