Las Vegas, NV - The two worst offensive teams in the Pac-12 Conference showed why on Wednesday afternoon in Las Vegas at the conference tournament. Cal rode a strong performance from senior Jabari Bird to survive against Oregon State 67-62
and advance to the quarterfinals to face Utah on Thursday afternoon at 2:30 PM in the T-Mobile Arena. The small crowd announced at 7,846 did not provide much atmosphere.
Bird scored 20 points, making seven of his 12 field goal attempts, and three of four from outside the arc. His fine play made up for sub-par shooting by the Bears' other major offensive threats. Ivan Rabb was four for 11, Charlie Moore was three for 12, and Grant Mullins was just two for 8. Mullins fouled out with 5:53 to play.
"We thought it would be a hard-fought game," said Cuonzo Martin following the game. "It felt like we were playing with a 15 pound weight vest on our backs, and we found a way to get a win and we can move forward."
The Bears shot poorly throughout the game. They converted 23 of 58 (39.7%) shots and eight of 23 on threes. Oregon State was slightly better at 40.4%, making 19 of 47. Poor free throw shooting (14 of 24) severely hurt the Beavers, with eight of those crucial misses in the second half.
Stephen Domingo's unexpected contributions were a big story for Cal. The senior did not play at all in Boulder on Saturday, but he was on the floor for 18 minutes against the Beavers. Domingo scored 10 points with three rebounds. The senior forward connected on a pair of treys after struggling from distance all season.
"Stephen is one of the few guys I've been around as a player and a coach that when he hasn't played he still comes in ready and prepared," said Martin.
Cal led 32-29 after a ragged first half. The Beavers then tied the game on a trey by Stephen Thompson Jr., but Rabb responded with a pair of buckets to give Cal the lead. Oregon State kept battling, and tied it up at 39 with 12 minutes to play.
Cal got another bucket from Rabb and back-to-back threes from Moore and Bird to build an 8-point advantage. It appeared that the Bears were in control, but Oregon State was not finished. Thompson Jr. hit a baseline jumper at the 3:23 mark to pull the Beavers to 54-52. Domingo's second trey from straight on extended the lead to five.
The decisive sequence came with a bit over one minute to play with Cal leading 59-57. Charlie Moore missed a challenged drive, and Oregon State pushed the ball up the the court. Kendall Manuel had an open three from the left corner, but he air-balled it, and Kingsley Okoroh secured the rebound. Bird leaked out, and Okoroh hit him with the outlet pass. Bird drove in for the slam dunk and was fouled, he completed the old-fashioned three point play to make it 62-57 with 54.5 seconds to go.
"That was a great play by King, because he threw the pass to me," said Bird. "I ran out; he made a great play to throw to me and I finished the play."
The Bears made enough free throws (5 of 8) from there to secure the victory. The Beavers deserve credit for their effort in this game, and Coach Wayne Tinkle talked about how proud he was of his team in his post-game press conference.
The Bears (20-11) do not appear to have solved the issues that led to their recent stretch of losing five of six games. They will need to play considerably better to have a better result against Utah on Thursday than the embarrassing thrashing they received in Salt Lake City last week.
To view postgame highlights and interviews with head coach Cuonzo Martin, Stephen Domingo and Jabari Bird, use the embedded viewers below: