In a matchup that had all the makings of a trap game, the Golden Bears held off an inspired second-half rally by the Beavers to spoil Joe Burton's senior day by a one-point margin, 60-59.
With that the Bears completed a sweep of the Oregon schools and grabbed their tenth conference win, improving to an overall line of 18-9. They'll now hope to extend their five-game winning streak as they hang on to the NCAA Tournament bubble with three regular-season games left to play.
The first time these two teams matched up this season, Allen Crabbe led the Bears back from a double-digit hole to put away the Beavers at Haas Pavilion. Today's game couldn't have been more different.
This time, Cal took the lead even before the opening whistle, as Oregon State freshman Olaf Schaftenaar's dunk in pregame warm-ups earned him a technical, and Crabbe sunk one of his two resulting free throws. The Bears needed every point they scored, including two more by Justin Cobbs after an additional technical was called on OSU Coach Craig Robinson in the first half.
After exchanging early buckets, the Bears took a 10-8 lead in the seventh minute that they would not relinquish. Starting with Cobbs' three-pointer to get Cal to 10, the Bears took off on a 15-0 run over the next six minutes, capitalizing on some poor shooting by the Beavers. Inefficiency plagued both team for much of the game, highlighted by a 34% field goal rate by the Beavers along with 12 turnovers. The Bears countered with 10 of their own and a 40% shooting pace.
Cal seemed to have a chance to put the game out of reach early, but poor shooting and the strength of the Beavers' rebounding let the home team hang around. Crabbe was uncharacteristically quiet all day, dropping only six points and converting just two of 12 shots from the floor. He had a number of open looks from the perimeter as well, but only hit one of six from beyond the arc.
Neither team was able to put together much else in the first half, ending with a halftime margin of 29-20 in favor of the Bears. Only the Bears' poor shooting kept the game close through the first period, as the Beavers limped to their lowest first-half scoring total all season.
Momentum swung in the Beavs' direction after the break, thanks in no small part to Joe Burton in his final home game. Burton picked up 15 points and nine boards, seven assists, and five steals, besides appearing to be on or near the ball at all times.
The Bears extended their lead to 35-22 on a layup by Justin Cobbs, but then the Beavers found their rhythm, trading scores and narrowing the margin to 45-40 at the six-minute mark with threes from Schaftenaar and Ahmad Starks.
With Crabbe still struggling to find his shot, Brandon Smith and Tyrone Wallace stepped up as deep threats for the Bears, each draining from deep to hold off the Beavers' rally. Smith contributed five points, while Wallace was second to Cobbs' 18 points with 11 of his own.
With just over three minutes remaining, Burton hit a jumper to narrow the Bears' lead to four at 55-51. Justin Cobbs immediately responded with a three-pointer, but Burton converted a subsequent free throw to stay within two possessions at 58-52.
Devon Collier, who quietly racked up 13 points for the Beavs, made a layup with just under two minutes left. Justin Cobbs hit a jumper coming out of a Cal timeout, but Collier matched him by making both free throws after Robert Thurmond's fifth foul.
Up by three, the Bears watched David Kravish send Collier to the line again, where he hit both shots with the clock frozen at 43 seconds. With the margin down to just one at 60-59, Cobbs took the inbounds pass and ran down the clock.
With six left on the shot clock, Cobbs looked to repeat his heroics from the game against Oregon where he hit the clinching jumper with seconds to spare. This time, his bid from three-point range didn't fall.
Joe Burton pulled down the rebound, but hesitated for a moment as the clock wound to four seconds before he called timeout. With a Senior Day comeback victory in mind, he inbounded to Ahmad Starks, but Starks' desperation three missed its mark, and the Bears came away with their win streak intact by the slimmest of margins.
Having avoided an upset that might have seriously hurt their bubble status, the Bears now sit behind just Arizona, Oregon, and UCLA in the conference standings. Cal owns the tiebreaker with the Ducks and Wildcats, and split its series with the Bruins. The final stretch of the season holds matchups against Utah, Colorado, and Stanford, all in the friendly confines of Haas Pavilion. The first test, against the Utes, will take place Thursday night.