GAME NOTES: The 23rd-ranked Oregon Ducks control their own destiny as it relates to winning the Pac-12 Conference regular-season title, and they'll take another step toward achieving that goal if they are able to thwart the upset bid of the visiting California Golden Bears on Thursday night.
California (16-9, 8-5 Pac-12) is enjoying a successful season of its own, but instead of talking about the team's proximity to the top of the Pac-12 standings, most seem to be centered on the recent controversy surrounding head coach Mike Montgomery and his shove of star guard Allen Crabbe in the team's 76-68 win over USC this past Sunday. Both the coach and player appear to be ready to put the incident behind them, as the Golden Bears seek out their fourth straight win and a season sweep of the Ducks after taking a 58-54 decision in the first meeting between the two this year, at Berkeley on Feb. 2.
Oregon (21-5, 10-3 Pac-12) has secured its third straight 20-win season, marking the first time that has happened since the period from 1936-39. The Ducks are 15-1 at home this year, and they are in the midst of a three-game win streak of their own. A 79-77 overtime victory at Washington State last Saturday earned them their first season sweep of the conference's two Evergreen State representatives (Washington being the other) since 1989-90. Oregon essentially has a two-game lead atop the Pac-12 standings, as second- place teams Arizona (9-4) and UCLA (9-4) have both been defeated by the Ducks this season.
Cal owns an 81-55 lead in the all-time series with Oregon, and the Golden Bears have won each of the last 10 meetings.
California is fortunate to have the league's leading scorer on the roster, as Crabbe is averaging 19.8 ppg, while also grabbing 5.7 rpg, logging 66 assists and coming up with 32 steals. The center of the recent media storm, Crabbe is a 47.9 percent shooter, who has drained 51-of-141 3-point attempts (.362) while also converting 80.9 percent of his free throws. Justin Cobbs is the only other player currently netting double-digits with his 14.8 ppg, and he serves as the team's primary playmaker by handing out 4.5 apg. Cobbs too has excelled at the charity stripe (94-of-110, .855). The team as a whole generates 68.8 ppg while permitting 65.5 ppg, and it owns a +3.1 rebounding margin, but is -1.0 in turnover differential. While his coach felt it necessary to do something drastic to motivate him, Crabbe was still the star of last weekend's win over USC as he logged a double-double consisting of 23 points and 10 rebounds. Crabbe nailed five 3-pointers in the game and was credited with all six of the team's steals. He did commit half of its 10 turnovers, and he was joined atop the scoring column by Cobbs, who went a perfect 9-of-9 from the foul line en route to 22 points, and he dished out six assists as well. Richard Solomon (14 points, seven rebounds) and David Kravish (10 points, nine boards, three blocks) were also productive for a California club that made good on 46.4 percent of its total shots, despite missing 15 of its long-range launches. Cal won the rebounding battle (36-28) and outscored the Trojans at the stripe (18-8).
Oregon doesn't have that one standout performer that commands an abundance of attention from opposing teams, instead relying on four double-digit scorers who average between 10.2 and 11.8 ppg, and another two who net between 8.8 and 9.7 ppg. E.J. Singler (11.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.0 apg) has been the team's best all-around performer this season, but a guy like Arsalan Kazemi (8.8 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 2.1 spg) has made his presence felt at both ends of the court. As a collective unit, Oregon is putting up 72.8 ppg behind a shooting effort that has it hitting 45.5 percent of its field goal attempts, but just 32 percent of its 3-point tries. The Ducks convert better than 72 percent of their free throws, and they lead the Pac-12 in both steals (225) and rebounding margin (+7.8). Continuing to look at the team's defensive effort, Oregon ranks third in the conference in average points allowed (62.9 ppg). Singler was on fire in the recent overtime win at Washington State, going 6-of-11 from the field, 4- of-8 from beyond the arc, and 9-of-10 at the foul line in tallying 25 points. Carlos Emory tacked on 20 points of his own, doing so in 26 minutes of action off the bench, and Damyean Dotson added 16 points for the Ducks, who shot 45.6 percent from the floor, despite a 29.2 percent showing from long range. Oregon held WSU to 40.4 percent field goal efficiency, and claimed a 39-32 rebounding advantage.
Cal has the talent to pull off the upset here, and continue its dominance over Oregon. But you can expect the Ducks to spread their wings in an effort to blanket Crabbe and Cobbs, while as the same time doing their best to free up Singler and his cohorts. Oregon wins a tight one.