BERKELEY -- Oregon senior Devoe Joseph took the ball up the floor against his former teammate in Minnesota -- California sophomore Justin Cobbs -- with less than 18 seconds left. Joseph was sitting at 33 points, and had hit four of eight three-pointers.
The Bears had scored 10 points in the previous 1:30. The Ducks had scored eight. The 6-foot-3 Cobbs -- with a career-high 28 on 13-of-19 shooting -- was one of the biggest reasons Cal was even in the game, much less in the lead.
Joseph sized up his former mate. He set and fired from the 'C' on the center-court Cal script. The ball bounced off the rim, and right into the hands of E.J. Singler, who fired a desperation fall-away three from the right wing as the edge of the backboard ignited. 9,980 fans in Haas Pavilion held their breath. Airball. The Bears -- despite trailing by eight points with 5:38 left in the game -- came back and downed Oregon, 86-83 to move to 21-6 on the season, and 11-3 in Pac-12 play.
"Devoe could always shoot the ball, and when he gets hot, he's hard to stop," Cobbs said. "He hit a couple of deep threes late. He kept them in it, but that's what Devoe does. He shoots. He's just a guy that you have to get off of rhythm, and tonight, he was able to knock down shots."
Joseph buried 10-of-17 shots from the field and hit 9-of-9 from the free-throw line, fueling a 54.1-percent shooting night for the Ducks (18-8, 9-5), and was poised to send the game into an extra period thanks to a free-throw miss by freshman David Kravish on the previous Cal possession.
"Devoe Joseph was spectacular," said Bears head coach Mike Montgomery. "There wasn't much we could do. We tried everybody on him. He banks in a three. Really deep, really tough shots, that's why you're really concerned with David's miss at the end, because it was a three now, and you just worry that Javoe was going to jump up and hit another one, take it to overtime. Fortunately for us, he didn't, but he was really, really good, probably only matched by Justin's game, with 28 points and eight assists."
As Cobbs sat down for the postgame media session, one reporter remarked, "That was easy, huh?" Smiling, Cobbs shot back, "Definitely not."
"He was very, very good," Montgomery said of Cobbs. "He kept us in the game. I would really be remiss -- Oregon was really good. They're playing as well as anybody in the league, right now. I can't imagine anybody playing much better than they're playing right now.
12 of Cobbs's 19 second-half points came from the paint in the second half, and he accounted for 16 of the Bears' 48 points in the paint over the course of the game, exploiting soft spots in the Ducks' zone and using his physicality and banging with players with significant altitude advantages, including 6-foot-11 Tony Woods.
"Because of the way they were playing -- they zoned early, and that's where we got off to our lead, and I think they went back to man -- we didn't do a great job of executing against their man. We felt like we could get the shots we wanted, and we didn't," Montgomery said. "Part of it was the presence of Woods inside. When we did get in there, Woods changed a lot of shots, and we didn't get much off of second shots, because they're a good rebounding team. There's a lot of stuff we didn't get. So, what it left open, was just penetration. Late, we got stops, and when we got stops, we were able to run and get to the basket before they were able to get back and get set up. [Cobbs] is good at getting to the basket, there's no question."
Cobbs stepped up to shoulder the scoring load, as senior guard Jorge Gutierrez and sophomore wing Allen Crabbe combining to score just 15 points on 4-of-17 shooting and 1-for-8 from three-point range.
"I know that there's been games -- like at Oregon -- where Allen started off slow a little bit, and then that last seven minutes, he went off for 18," Cobbs said. "You just take what the game gives you, and tonight, I was able to get to the basket, make some shots. Tonight, I was aggressive."
Crabbe went 2-for-10 from the field and pulled down just three boards in 35 minutes.
"Allen had a bazillion up there, so they made him a real emphasis," Montgomery said. "I'm sure that opened up Justin. What makes a good team, is when the thing opens up, because there's not help -- because they're taking the guy to help that's guarding Allen -- Justin was able to get to the hoop."
Four of Oregon's 22 turnovers came courtesy of Cobbs, who not only poured in 28 points, but dished out a game-high eight assists, committed no turnovers and swiped four steals.
"Coach was telling me, 'Be aggressive, and if you can, put the team on your back,'" Cobbs said. "I was just trying to find guys and trying to score the ball, and we just want to win. We were competing tonight, and it was a great team effort. We're that much closer to doing what we want to do, and we'll do whatever it takes to get the W's from here on out."
Senior power forward Harper Kamp had difficulty inside for much of the night against Woods and Singler, who bottled up the 6-foot-8 big man down low.
"Their bigs are athletic," Montgomery said. "They beat us down the floor and got lots of stuff with the bigs out-running us down the floor. We didn't do a great job in transition. That really hurt us, early."
In the first half, Woods, Singler and 6-foot-6 junior Carlos Emory combined for 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Joining Emory off the bench was 6-foot-7 senior Olu Ashaolu, who chipped in six points and three boards, along with two assists. Kamp, Kravish and forward Robert Thurman combined for 12 points and eight boards.
"That really hurt us, early," Montgomery said. "We got off to a good start, and they kind of made some lineup changes, and they're running their bigs down the right side, and we just couldn't keep up with them. We got caught underneath the backboard a lot, and then they would just run their bigs out. Woods blocked some shots inside. He was clearly a presence. That's a good basketball team. I watched them play Washington last week, and that's a good basketball team. It was really a pretty gutty performance. I know they've got to be sick, sitting in there, because they played really well."
Woods accounted for just eight points on the night, but pulled down six boards and tallied a game-high two blocks in 28 minutes. Woods also played a pivotal role in screening Kamp off of the Ducks' shooters. Woods hammered home two of Oregon's four second-half dunks.
"We scout. We took them out of their half-court stuff at their place. I just didn't think we were very good, didn't have very good attention to detail, in terms of our defense," Montgomery said. "They weren't doing anything we didn't take them out of in the first game, in terms of their back-cut and their second cuts and so forth. We did a good job at their place, we just kept going under the guy and then they would catch it at the elbow and jump up and shoot it, and we weren't supposed to that.
"Of course, we did get some fouls called when we tried to keep them from getting there, so I'm sure we got a little bit jumpy on that. But, they came out of a time out, they came out, we went to a zone one time and they threw a lob. How they knew we were going to zone, they were immediately ready to make that play, when the zone was supposed to catch them off-guard, and they just went right behind to the lob and the guy went up, nine miles in the air. They did it two or three times. There's nothing we could have done about it, other than bump him out of his cut, because the ball was way up in the air, and they threw it down."
With just over seven minutes left in the game, Woods forced a turnover from Kravish in the paint, and then finished with a slam on the other end to put the Ducks up by seven.
"It seems like a pretty unique offense," Kamp said. "It's pretty high-powered. It's hard to guard, because it takes you out of some of your normal principles. They just have a lot of options out of it. You saw them get the lobs, where we were maybe in the right position, and it's just tough to guard. You've got guys that are jumping up and making shots, and that makes it even tougher."
In the final 1:09, though, Kamp broke through, netting seven of his 20 points and hitting five straight free throws.
"That was an exciting game," Kamp said. "It was a lot of fun. It was a little too much stress, but seeing my team play the way they did, and guys like J stepping up, just making plays at the end and having a lot of heart, those are the kinds of games you want to be in. Those are the teammates you want to play with."
Both Kamp and Kravish were in early foul trouble, each sitting with two fouls as Cal trailed 40-37 at the half. But, the pair was only called for one foul apiece after the break, with Kravish finishing the game with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting and a game-high eight rebounds.
"I think he was kind of getting out-physicalled maybe in the first half," Kamp said. "He responded really well, and just played some really tough defense. He really helped me out, because they were running the floor really well, and he just helped me on a lot of plays, covering my guy, when we needed to switch. He was really attentive and focused."
Kravish struggled at the line, though, going just 3-for-7 on free throws, and was manhandled in paint in the first half, attempting just one shot before the break. Kravish missed his first two shots in the second half before connecting on a lay-up just under four minutes in.
"Kravish came alive, and I thought he was a little bit overwhelmed - if you will - in the first half, with their athletics," Montgomery said. "They're physical. They bang you. They've got five post guys they can play. I thought Dave came alive in the second half, made some plays and was a little more comfortable with the whole thing. We got in trouble up there, foul-wise, and we had Richard [Solomon] at that time, and he had 11 boards. But, we didn't have Richard today, so Allen was being guarded, and he wasn't moving as much -- I think he's a little sore -- and there's no question we need him. He didn't look on-balance his first couple shots that he took. He didn't have his confidence, perhaps."
Kravish redeemed himself in crunch time, capitalizing on a foul by Emory and hitting the back end of his two freebies to put the Bears up by three with 18 seconds remaining.
"He came up with the free throw at the end, and that's big for a freshman, to miss that first one, I think, and be able to just focus and hit the next one," Kamp said. "That says a lot about Dave, and I'm glad he played well in that second half."
After the Ducks got out to an early 6-2 lead, the Bears went on a 15-3 run, but Oregon refused to go away. Cal led by nine with 7:51 left in the first half, but the Ducks chipped away and managed to tie it up at 28 on a lay-up by Ashaolu. Cobbs responded with a lay-up of his own, but after thumping his chest, was called for the first of three technical fouls Cal committed on the evening, stalling the Bears' momentum.
With 11:01 left in the game, Crabbe clanked a three-pointer, and Gutierrez was called for a foul on Joseph beyond the three-point arc. Joseph then drained all three free throws for a six-point swing.
"The last time I really looked up, and was worried, was the 11-minute mark, and that's when I was talking to Justin, and we all had our heads down a little bit," Kamp said. "I think Justin turned it up on D, Jorge started making some plays, and we were just all over the place, tipping some balls and getting some deflections, and that's when I knew we weren't going to lose this game. You could just see it in the way we were moving, and the defensive plays we were making."
Down 73-71 with 3:56 left, Montgomery himself was called for a technical, and the Ducks capitalized, pushing the lead to 75-71 thanks to three straight free throws by Joseph, who hit all nine of his shots from the charity stripe.
"It may have hurt us a little bit, giving them a little two-point lead, but, at the same time, I believe in our team," Cobbs said. "It just gives us a little more edge to do what we have to do on defense. We still got stops. We still scored the ball. I think it shows what kind of team we are. We can handle adversity. No matter what happens on the court, we're still going to do whatever it takes."
The Cal defense -- worn down all night by a relentless Oregon offense -- then came alive. The Ducks went five straight possessions without scoring, and committed three turnovers.
"We defended better," Montgomery said. "The fact that we were able to get ahead, or tie or get ahead, or be in a one-possession game, certainly changed the tenor of the game, from the standpoint of now, Oregon did not have a cushion, where they could miss a shot, and it was OK, they were still going to be ahead. All of the sudden, it became an even game, and possessions became way more valuable. I thought we got aggressive at the end. I thought we defended better at the end."
Gutierrez came alive, forcing Joseph into a backcourt violation and stealing a pass from Singler trying to get out of a double team inside. Gutierrez ran the break with Cobbs, who laid it in to cut the lead to 75-74 with 2:01 remaining.
"No matter what happens on the offensive side of the ball, we make sure it doesn't affect what we do on defense," Cobbs said. "Tonight was a great example of that. Jorge may not have had his best offensive game, but on defense, he impacted the game. Getting steals and getting turnovers, that's just what he does, no matter what happens. Nothing can stop Jorge from playing his game and being aggressive on defense."
-- With Thursday's win, Cal has now won nine straight games against Oregon, the most by either team in the history of the series. The next-longest streak saw the Bears top the Ducks eight straight times from 1919 to 1937.
-- Cal's 86 points were a season-high.
-- The Bears' 21-6 overall record -- a .778 winning percentage -- is Cal's best since 2001-02, when the Bears went 23-9.
-- Cobbs's 28-point outing marked his fourth 20-point effort this season, and his four steals tied a season-high.
-- With seven points on Thursday in front of a vocal group of family and friends, in town for his final two home games, Gutierrez moved into sole possession of 27th place on Cal's all-time scoring list. His one steal gave him 32 on the season and 141 for his career, moving Gutierrez past Michael Chavez (1980-83) for sole possession of fifth place on the all-time rolls.
-- Kravish's 13 points tied a season and career high for the true freshman.
-- Kamp's 20 total points were two shy of his season best, and marked the second time this season that the senior has scored 20 or more.
-- The Bears are undefeated this season when having the better shooting percentage. Cal shot 55.7 percent from the field, while Oregon shot 54.1 percent. The Bears went 18-for-29 (62.1 percent) from the field in the second half, after a 16-for-32 opening stanza.