The California Golden Bears had a great opportunity to get a signature win at Haas Pavilion on Wednesday night, but once again could not finish the job, falling 68-65 to the sixth ranked Oregon Ducks on Dillon Brooks three point shot with 0.2 seconds remaining.
Brooks' shot silenced a roaring crowd of 10,759, and sent the Bears to their third straight loss. Cal fell to 18-9 overall, and 9-6 in the Pac-12 Conference. Oregon (25-4, 14-2) is chasing Arizona for the top seed in the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.
The Bears built a 16-point lead with 16:36 left in the second half, but it was not enough. Oregon roared back with timely shooting and a full-court press that Cal did not handle well.
Brooks finished with 22 points, 17 of them in the second half. Chris Boucher hurt the Bears with 18 points, nailing three from distance following the intermission.
Jabari Bird played a fine game for Cal with 20 points on 8 of 13 shooting. Bird was 4 for 7 on threes. Bird did not get much help offensively on this night, as Ivan Rabb, Charlie Moore and Grant Mullins did not shoot well.
"Obviously this was a big game for us, and we came up short," said Coach Cuonzo Martin after the game. "They did a better job scoring the ball and attacking the rim in the second half. I thought we broke down defensively in quite a few areas in the second half."
"I mean, first of all you have to tip your hat to Oregon, they made good plays down the stretch and we didn't," said Bird. "Brooks hit tough shots, those last two shots he hit were tough contested shots, and you can't be upset with that. Being up 10 with three to go, we can't squander that lead, and that really messed us up"
When Moore made a pair at the line with 4:15 remaining, Cal led 59-49. Chris Boucher made a trey and after a Bird miss, Dylan Ennis connected from outside the line in the left corner. Suddenly, it was 59-55, and the Ducks were energized. Martin took a timeout to settle his team down.
Moore turned it over against the Oregon press, and Payton Pritchard's 3-ball brought the visitors to within one with just under three minutes to play.
Moore was fouled on Cal's next possession, and the freshman calmly made both free throws to put the Bears up 61-58 with 2:44 on the clock. Brooks scored on a drive to make it a one-point game again.
Sam Singer got caught in the air and turned it over, and Boucher's layup gave the Ducks their first lead of the game, 62-61 with 1:48 left. Martin took another timeout, and Mullins responded with a difficult shot from just inside the elbow.
Brooks missed on Oregon's next possession, but Cal could not secure the rebound. The ball went out on the baseline, and the officials went to the monitor to determine possession. The Ducks got the ball, and Brooks responded with a tough turn-around jumper from just inside the paint to give the visitors a 64-63 lead.
Bird missed, and Tyler Dorsey split a pair at the line to extend the Oregon lead to two. Martin called Cal's final timeout, and Rabb's attempt was goal-tended to tie the game at 65 with 9.7 seconds left.
Brooks rose up and fired in the game winner off the dribble. There was not enough time left on the clock for Cal to get off a shot.
Cal had just two field goals in the final 7:54 of the game. They made their final seven free throws, but it was not enough.
Cal finished the game with 14 turnovers, with 7 for Oregon. The Ducks turned those Cal miscues into 19 points, while Cal had just six points off turnovers.
The Ducks shot 60% in the second half, and after missing all seven of their three point shots in the first half, made 7 of 14 following the break. Cal was just 2 of 9 from distance in the second twenty minutes.
Cal wasted a fine first half performance. They held the Ducks to a season low 16 points in the opening half.
Cal's defense harassed the Ducks throughout the first half. The Ducks did not get their first field goal for nearly five and a half minutes.
The Bears will take on the bottom team in the league, Oregon State on Friday night at Haas. The final home game on the schedule will tip at 7:00 p.m. Now squarely on the bubble, without quality wins, the Bears cannot afford any more missteps.