Whether it’s baseball, basketball or football, the Oregon Ducks are all about momentum, velocity and speed. On Thursday night, the Ducks basketball team flew straight into the mouth of a jet engine at full speed, and that jet engine was California’s Jordan Mathews.
The true freshman out of Santa Monica, Calif., went off for a career-best 32 points, fueling a resounding 96-83 road win against No. 17 Oregon, marking the Bears’ second straight conference road win, the Ducks’ second straight conference loss and the Cal’s 12th straight victory over the emerald and gold.
The win was all but certain, as the teams traded leads 10 times, and were knotted up six times. What Oregon didn’t count on, though, was Mathews.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder -- who came in averaging just 7.4 points per game -- scored 11 of Cal’s first 18 points, and made four of the Bears’ first five field goals, finishing the night 10-for-14 from the field and 3-for-4 from three-point land, as fellow freshman Jabari Bird missed his third straight game.
With Bird smiling on the bench and former Bear Allen Crabbe of the Portland Trail Blazers in the stands, Mathews scored 20 points – two shy of his career high coming in -- in the first half alone, going 7-for-9 as the Bears got out in transition and broke the Oregon press with several three-quarters-court passes converted into buckets.
The Ducks were out-Ducked in the first half, as Cal was able to hang with Oregon’s superior athleticism. Thrown off by Mathews’ explosion and the Bears’ ability to match their tempo, the Ducks committed nine turnovers in a tight first stanza, which saw four lead changes and no lead wider than six points, until the Bears went up by eight with 1:59 to go. Those Oregon turnovers accounted for 14 points for Cal.
To go along with those turnovers, Oregon had nine possessions where the Ducks got off just one shot, followed by Cal defensive rebounds, in the first half. Those lost scoring chances proved to be as much of a difference-maker as Mathews, since the Ducks started the night shooting 15-for-27 from the field and 4-for-7 from beyond the arc.
After a trey to open the second half, Mathews went quiet, going 0-for-2 with four points – all on free throws – until hitting a long three falling away with 4:59 to go, stretching Cal’s lead to 79-74.
In the meantime, Oregon sprinted out of the break on a 10-3 run, fueled by guard Joseph Young, who scored 16 of 21 Ducks points from the end of the first half, through the first two minutes of the second. Young was 6-of-11 from the field for 29 points, but he did most of his damage at the free throw line, going 16-of-17 from the charity stripe in a game where eight players between the two teams finished with four fouls.
Many of those fouls came in the paint, where Cal out-scored Oregon 36-30. With the Ducks keyed on Mathews for most of the second half, the Bears went down low, scoring 20 points in the paint after the break, largely thanks to the play of Richard Solomon, who scored 16 points on the night, including 10 in the second half on 4-of-6 shooting. Solomon just missed his fourth double-double in the past five games, adding nine rebounds.
Cal played just eight players all night, with six Bears logging double-digit minutes. Though redshirt sophomore Christian Behrens played just nine minutes, those nine minutes proved to be key in keeping Solomon and David Kravish fresh, particularly given the pace of the game. Behrens played instead of freshman seven-footer Kameron Rooks, likely because of the accelerated pace of Oregon’s transition offense and the stress of the Ducks’ press. With Solomon and Kravish well-rested, the two bigs combined to score 28 points. Kravish went 5-of-11 from the field with eight rebounds and three assists.
Also key in breaking the press was the play of guards Justin Cobbs and Tyrone Wallace. As Oregon crept closer, it was Cobbs who showed veteran leadership and not a small amount of toughness, taking a dish from Wallace off a steal on a wild pass forced by Solomon to the hole for two. Cobbs immediately went down with cramps, and came out of the game, only to return just a minute and a half later, drive to the hole, draw the foul and sink both of his free throws.
After coming back from his cramping issue, Cobbs shot just 1-for-2 from the field, hit all five of his free throw attempts and dished out four assists – more than any Duck had in the entire game – over the course of the final 7:41. Cobbs finished with a game-high 11 helpers and 20 points, adding six rebounds in 37 minutes.
Wallace scored 14 points, doing most of his damage in the first half, scoring 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting and 2-of-5 from long distance, adding three assists.
Cal next takes the court on Saturday against Oregon State, which downed Stanford on Thursday night, 81-72. Tip is scheduled for 5 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPNU.