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January 29, 2011

Ducks give Cal a scare

BERKELEY -- Even down by 18 points for a good chunk of the first half, the Oregon Ducks weren't about to roll over as easily as their cross-state rival Oregon State did on Thursday night against the Cal basketball team.

Instead, Oregon (10-11, 3-6 in the Pac-10) fought back to within one point of the Bears with less than seven minutes to go, but rather than wither in the face of adversity, the youthful Cal squad drew energy from the crowd of 8,629 -- which included 2010 Pac-10 Player of the Year Jerome Randle -- and pulled out a dramatic 85-77 win.

"We got tired, we lost our concentration and we got a little fatigued," said Bears skipper Mike Montgomery, who's team played against some frustrating full-court pressure for almost the entire night. "You knew you were going to play against pressure the whole time. You knew you were going to play against a little bit different zone the whole time, and after a while, as well as we were attacking it early, all of the sudden we just weren't attacking it so intelligently and they got some momentum and some confidence."

Cal (12-9, 5-4) had seemed well on its way to yet another romp after the first eight minutes of the game. A three-pointer by Jeff Powers with 11:51 left in the half put the Bears up by 18, when first-year Oregon head coach Dana Altman called a 30-second timeout to give his Ducks a collective slap in the face.

"We didn't have them ready to play and they shot the heck out of it but I just thought our energy level was really bad," Altman said. "I don't know if we were still patting ourselves on the back for the other night or what, but we weren't sharp at the start of the game. I told the guys the game started at three and we showed up at about three thirty."

After Powers' three, the Ducks rattled off a 16-5 run thanks to six points from junior Garrett Sim, who scored eight points on 3-of-8 shooting and 2-of-5 from three-point land.

True freshman Allen Crabbe, who continued his tear through conference play with a team-best 18 points, knew going in that the Ducks' zone and pressure would prove difficult.

"I'm not really surprised; we knew that they were a scrappy team," Crabbe said. "We knew that they like to pressure, and I know, for my part, I don't know what I was doing in the first half. I just took myself out of the game because I was making mistakes and I was being hard on myself. They played good team defense, got a couple steals and got their shots to fall down and they got back in the game."

Oregon added full-court pressure to its already staunch 2-3 zone, and forced a season-high five turnovers from Crabbe -- four of those coming in the first half.

"I didn't really think that much of what they did caused the turnovers; I thought it was mostly what we didn't do," said Montgomery, who's squad coughed the ball up 15 times and surrendered six steals. "To their credit, they don't just stay in one place. It's not the same thing every time. You'll come down the court one time and the side's open and you think, 'God, this isn't so hard,' and the next time you'll look and that guy's covered and they make you go someplace else. They adjusted. They're smart that way, and you know they're not going away and they're not going to quit doing it. They continue to do it, which gives you a little less time to attack the zone and it also weighs on you, mentally."

"I didn't think Allen was very comfortable with (the pressure. I didn't think he liked that thing very much. So, we attacked it early and then we kind of got a little bit tentative once we made a couple mistakes and we quit attacking it."

Crabbe had only committed four turnovers in Pac-10 play and doubled that by halftime.

"I wouldn't say I was having difficulty against their zone, but it was their pressure," Crabbe said. "I know that we were going over in practice how to break the zone. We always wanted to get the ball to the middle so we could have an advantage, like a three-on-two, but they played the middle well and they got some turnovers.

"After one (turnover), the second one came and I just got too hard on myself. But then I've got my teammates. The leaders just told me to play my game and let it go, and I picked it up in the second half."

Senior center Markhuri Sanders-Frison tied Crabbe for the team lead with 18 points, but he and his Bears had trouble reacting once the Ducks decided to amp up the full-court press.

"I think this was the most we've been pressured all year," he said. "It was for the full game, for the full 40 minutes, basically. Allen, him being a freshman, that's something new, and he did well. Everybody makes turnovers and we didn't pass the ball as well as we'd have liked, but he did a great job and still helped us out a lot and came through for us. I think he matured today, learning the dos and don'ts with a full-court press for 30 minutes."

All four of the Bears' big men - Richard Solomon, Bak Bak, Harper Kamp and Sanders-Frison each finished the first half with two fouls apiece.

"At one time, we were 4-for-18 from the floor and I don't think we were making free throws, so that doesn't auger well for us sustaining or maintaining or extending a lead," Montgomery said. "There was a little bit of a lack of continuity in the game, based on foul calls, and there were just a lot of foul calls. In the first half, they had four or five guys with two, we had all four of our guys with two, so there was a little bit of a 'What are we doing here?' type thing. But, I just thought that we got a little fatigued. We got some minutes off the bench, but we had three guys in the high-30s. They've got all day tomorrow to rest, and then we'll go back at it on Monday."

Foul trouble limited both Kamp and Sanders-Frison to 13 and eight first-half minutes, respectively, something that really gnawed at the big man from Portland, Ore.

"It's a nightmare," Sanders-Frison said of having to sit for over 10 minutes straight in the first half. "It is a nightmare. It's hard to get back into the flow, so that's why I stay on the bike and do stretches and stay warm during halftime. I hated it. Me being a senior, I have to do a lot better with foul trouble. I'm not doing a good job of that."

With early foul trouble for the Ducks looming, the Bears shot an anemic 11-for-18 from the charity stripe in the first half. Despite shooting 15-of-24 (62.5 percent) from the field and 6-of-9 from three to Oregon's 11-of-28 (39.3) from the field and 3-of-10 (30.0) from beyond the arc, Cal's 12-point halftime lead seemed a lot smaller.

"It became somewhat difficult later," said Montgomery. "I can't explain it. We just sliced and diced early, we made plays and the thing that scared me about them was their activity. In watching them, they've got a lot of guys, they play a lot of guys, they have quick hands. Dana's done a really nice job. They're really kind of drinking the Kool Aid and what he's selling. They seem to be having fun playing."

Things got even tighter in the second, as the Ducks continued to force Crabbe out of his comfort zone while their own Malcolm Armstead went off for 12 points after scoring just four in the first stanza.

"Well, you know, Malcolm has really just become more aggressive offensively and that's really helped," Altman said. "Him picking up that fourth foul so early in the second half, you know he was playing really good and him getting that fourth foul put a little damper on things."

When Armstead was dinged for his third and fourth infractions with just under 15 minutes left in the game and Oregon down by six. Three minutes later, the Bears had extended their lead to nine thanks to two free throws from Jorge Gutierrez, who scored 11 of his 17 points from the charity stripe.

Another big factor in the second half was Joevan Catron, who scored 13 of his 22 points after the break.

"I'd also say that if you look at their lineup, it's not a bad lineup," Montgomery said of the Ducks, who had three players score in double figures on the evening. "Jeremy Jacob and Catron were hurt early, and they're starters. Armstead's been a starter and he played really well tonight. Garrett Sim is a third year starter, and I like E.J. Singler a lot. He's a really nice out and they got aggressive, and we got a bit tentative. I thought we got tired, frankly."

To try and take Catron out of the game, the Bears switched back into a zone, which had the added benefit of protecting Kamp, who got his fourth foul with 14:05 left in the game.

"They were really isolating Catron down there and we felt that they were going to go down to Catron every time in man, and they were doing a pretty good job of isolating him, and he had a stretch where he was scoring every time," Montgomery said. "They really weren't shooting the ball great from out. I would say that had we rebounded the ball, the statistics would have looked better for us, but Tyrone Nared was just a beast on the boards. There were five that were missed shots where if we get it, it kind of changes the whole thing. They got a second possession, and Armstead played well. He made some shots that maybe we hadn't anticipated him making."

After Nared made two from the line with 11:59 left, a thunderous dunk from Crabbe brought the lead back to nine, but Oregon wouldn't give up. With just under seven minutes to play, the Ducks reduced that lead to just one point on a jumper by Armstead.

"He finished things up well," Altman said. "He played well on this trip with two good offensive games and he needs to continue to be aggressive. He's getting looks and he's knocking them down and he needs to continue to be aggressive."

The Ducks looked to be in prime position to complete the 18-point, come-from behind victory, but at that moment, the Bears clutched up on defense and made several key stops, outscoring Oregon 19-12 over the rest of the game.

"It showed that we've matured a lot; we've played 21 games, so we've come a long way," said Sanders-Frison. "I just give a lot of props to our young fellas and the coaching staff for helping us out with that, because we're a very young team and it showed that we've matured this afternoon."

Gutierrez scored 11 points, pulled down three boards and notched an assist during the second half, and hit all four of his free throws with less than 30 seconds left to ice the win.

"Jorge was big for us," Crabbe said. "He knocked down a big three. Jorge's a leader, so he's going to do everything that we need him to do and he came through big for us in the end."

The win was Cal's third in a row -- its longest streak since opening the season with four straight wins -- and served to boost the confidence of the youthful squad.

"I guess we're just feeding off of every game, building up confidence," Crabbe said. "We're a young team and we feel that we can compete with anybody in the Pac-10. This was a great week for us. It seemed like when we had a big lead against Oregon State we kept it up, and today we kind of let it go, but we pulled it out in the end. But, getting wins at home is like automatic in the Pac-10. You've got to get those, because the road ones are so hard to get. We feed off the home wins.

"We're going into the second half of the season with a winning record, and everybody knows each other's game. We have to execute more and find holes that we can keep finding and executing."

Not many predicted that the Bears would have a winning conference record -- or a winning record overall, for that matter -- at this point in the season, but Sanders-Frison, for his part, isn't surprised at all.

"We're playing hard and surprising a lot of people," he said. "That's all I can say. We're playing very hard, and I'm just so proud of my teammates. We go hard in practice, we go hard in games, and it's paying off."

Faces in the Crowd
• When Jerome Randle was introduced with 3:47 left in the first half , "The Bulldog" received a lengthy standing ovation from the crowd.

• Defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi was spotted in the stands above the Cal band with official visitor Puka Lopa out of Sacramento (Calif.) Grant.

Notebook
• The Bears now lead the all-time series with the Ducks, 77-55. Cal has won nine of its last 11 against Oregon in Berkeley.

• Sanders-Frison's 18 points were a career-high. He went 6-of-7 from the field and 6-of-9 from the free-throw line. He had 15 points several times previously, most recently last Thursday against the Beavers. Over his past four games, Sanders-Frison is shooting 21-of-33 (63.6 percent) from the floor.

• After making just 13 of their first 23 attempts from the charity stripe, the Bears hit 17 of their last 18 to finish 30-of-41 (73.2 percent).

• After going 0-for-6 from three-point range over the past three games, Gutierrez hit his first three-point attempt of the first half and was 2-of-5 from three on the afternoon.

Cal shot 7-of-14 from three-point land, matching its season-high for most treys in a game.

• Kamp finished with 13 points, shooting 4-of-7 from the floor. He has made at least half of his field goal attempts in each of the last six games, going 38-for-66 (57.6 percent).

• The Bears led 47-35 at the half -- their highest first-half point total of the season. The Bears scored 42 against Washington State on Jan. 13. All nine Cal players who saw action in the opening 20 minutes made at least one field goal when the Bears sank 15 of their first 24 shots (62.5 percent).

• The Bears scored 13 points off the bench, led by Solomon's five. The 6-foot-9 freshman also chipped in four boards in his 12 minutes. Bak led the bench with five rebounds. He also scored three points and added a steal.

• Crabbe led Cal with seven rebounds and also dished out three assists and swiped a team-high two steals.

Brandon Smith and Gutierrez tied for the team-high with five assists apiece, but coughed up a combined seven turnovers, nearly half of the Bears' team total.


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