Bird leads Cal past Oregon State in Pac-12 Tournament opener
LAS VEGAS (AP) —
California had a hard time shaking an Oregon State team that had won five games all season. The Bears ended the regular season with five losses in six games, so there was no way they could afford to lose this.
Cal found a way to close out a harder-than-expected game and now gets a shot to move on to the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament.
Jabari Bird scored 20 points and converted a key 3-point play with 54 seconds left, helping California grind out a 67-62 victory over Oregon State Wednesday in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament.
"We knew it would be tough just finding a way to win, get the rust off us," Cal coach Cuonzo Martin. "Felt like we were playing with a 15-pound-weight vest on our backs. We found a way to get the win, and now we can move forward."
Cal (20-11) labored for most of the game offensively and had a hard time containing Oregon State's Stephen Thompson Jr. The fifth-seeded Bears pulled it out behind Bird and a strong second half by Ivan Rabb.
The 6-foot-11 forward had 12 points and 13 rebounds after scoring two on 1-of-7 shooting in the first half, helping the Bears earn a rematch against Utah in Thursday's quarterfinals.
The Utes beat Cal by 30 on March 2, putting a dent in their NCAA Tournament hopes.
"It's not added motivation, it's a game in March that we need to win, so that's enough motivation right there," Bird said. "But, I mean, Utah's a great team, and like I said before, we're looking forward to the challenge."
Thompson had 25 points and hit 5 of 6 from 3-point range to keep Oregon State (5-27) in the game until late. The Beavers pulled within 59-57, but Bird was fouled on a layup and hit the free throw to put Cal up five.
The Beavers couldn't come up with the key stops when they needed it and hurt themselves from the free-throw line, hitting 14 of 24.
"We missed some free throws when we were struggling to score in the end of the second half, and then a couple times we got off page defensively, gambled, and they made us pay with back-to-back 3s," Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle said. "They hit back-to-back 3s there, and we had a stretch where we missed six out of eight free throws. You know, it's a two-possession game. You can't let that happen."
The Bears came into the game knowing they couldn't afford a letdown against the 12th-seeded Beavers to maintain any hope of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
Cal won the two regular-season meetings against Oregon State by a combined 41 points, but the Beavers were ready for the Bears in round three.
Oregon State opened the game by making three of its first four shots from 3-point range and hounded Cal defensively. The Beavers had an early 10-4 run to lead by eight and withstood a run by Cal to stay within 32-29 at halftime.
Oregon State continued to hang around, still within one after Cal forgot to guard Thompson on back-to-back 3-pointers midway through.
Even when the Bears tried to pull away, the Beavers stayed on their heels, keeping the game closer than expected.
"I feel like we've grown a lot, especially the way we ended tonight," said Oregon State's Kendal Manuel, who had 11 points. "We showed that we're going to stick through everything together and no matter what is coming at us, someone else is going to step up and make that next play."
Oregon State should be in good shape headed into next season with a young roster that loses only backup center Cheikh N'diaye.
Cal will need to play better in the quarterfinals against Utah, a team it split with during the regular season.
Rabb was a non-factor in the first half, but took the ball to the basket on his first touch of the second and played more aggressively the rest of the way. The double-double was his 29th career, tying Leon Power for second-most in school history.
"He just missed some shots that he normally makes," Martin said. "But I think settling in and being more assertive in the second half and having a presence was the difference."
Oregon State's season is over.
Cal faces Utah in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday.
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