Streak Breaker: Cal Men's Basketball Holds On in Corvallis
Jordan Shepherd scores twice in the last two minutes to push Cal past Oregon State
I’ve often wondered what it’s like as a high level athlete, psychologically, to have to go through a losing streak.
In small ways I can pretend to understand. I know what it’s like to make mistakes at work, what it’s like to feel overwhelmed with my job. I know how unfun it is to write about a losing streak, of having to pick at what went wrong over and over again if I want to honestly and accurately tell the story of a basketball game.
But those are tiddlywinks in comparison to actually experiencing it. Putting in the hours of work that go into playing college sports, only to come up on the wrong end over and over. Having to do so in front of a live audience and a television audience. Having the box score poured over by number nerds like me.
Beating Oregon State isn’t going to get noticed by many folks. It doesn’t change the larger trajectory of this season. It’s probably the difference between 11th and 12th place in the Pac-12.
But for at least one night, all that work that everybody on the team has put it has resulted in a win, and a happy night’s rest.
Having to take on an unfair burden in an offense bereft of options, Jordan Shepherd scored the last four points of the game and helped earn a win. After a nightmare shooting slump, Grant Anticevich hit enough shots to help earn a win. After a frustrating COVID layoff and oscillating playing time, Joel Brown nearly pulled off a triple double and was probably the MVP of the game.
I know I say this a lot, but these are the guys who chose to come to Cal (and stay at Cal) when the chips have been very, very down. I hope they feel like they made the right decision, even if the win/loss record has been rough.
I hadn’t really thought about Oregon State since Cal beat the Beavers back on December 2, and I made fun of Oregon State’s administration:
In retrospect, Oregon State’s start to the season wasn’t in fact a cold streak; it was just the beginning of an absolute bottoming out of the program. The Beavers are 3-18, their best win is at home over Utah, and they are currently sporting one of the worst defenses in Pac-12 history.
So this game has to be analyze within that context. If Cal had put this offensive performance together with a healthy Andre Kelly, it would’ve been mildly disappointing; Oregon State hasn’t held a single Pac-12 opponent below one point/possession until they did it to Cal on Wednesday night.
But of course Andre Kelly didn’t play, and everything Cal tries to do on offense is still viewed through that lens. Cal only has two healthy players on the roster who are shooting better than 50% on their two point shots, and those guys are not volume shooters*. There isn’t anywhere to go for efficient offense.
About the only thing Cal could do to rack up points was to get up a bunch of shots - the Bears crashed the glass against OSU’s crummy defensive rebounding and got a lot of 2nd chances, and that was just enough to keep the offense afloat.
Cal ultimately won this game thanks to a solid defensive performance. OSU has a passable offense, and Cal did well enough to win. The Bears didn’t give up many easy buckets, secured the defensive glass, and forced a surprising number of turnovers. OSU’s only source of consistent offense was drawing fouls and shooting free throws. That was ultimately juuust enough.
*Lars Thiemann (54%) and Makale Foreman (62%, but on just 29 total 2 point attempts) are the only ones.
At the end of the game, after Jordan Shepherd sliced through the lane to put up a layup that was clearly on the way into the bucket before an obvious OSU goaltend, OSU had multiple chances to tie or win the game on their final possession.
Cal snuffed out the first chance with good defense, and the rebound was falling into the hands of Grant Anticevich before an OSU player clearly knocked the ball out of Grant’s hands. Cal ball, game over.
Except that after a review, it was determined that the ball grazed Grant’s fingers, and so OSU got the ball back with a few seconds left, which gave OSU enough time for a decently open corner 3 and a put back attempt that almost fell.
I get that by the letter of the law, OSU possession was technically correct. But the idea that a team gets rewarded when one of their players knocks the ball out of the hands of an opponent directly out of bounds never sits right with me. We need some sort of hand grazing exemption. For my entire life, when a dude knocked the ball out of somebody’s hands out of bounds, the team holding the ball retained possession. Now, those calls often get reversed AND we get an annoying replay review as a painful bonus.
This win all but guarantees that Cal will not finish in last place in the Pac-12 this year. The Bears now have a two game lead in the win column and hold the tie-break after a season sweep of the Beavers. More importantly, Cal is simply a better team than Oregon State.
That may not seem like much, but when your best player is out for the season and you’ve finished 12th three times in four seasons you’ll take it. Cal will host Utah in a week and a half in a game that will likely decide who finishes 10th and who finishes 11th, but before we worry about that there’s a road game in Eugene on Saturday against the surging Ducks.