California seeks critical win against No. 6 Oregon (Feb 22, 2017)

Wednesday’s game in Berkeley, Calif., between No. 6 Oregon and California is critical for both teams, but for different reasons.

The Ducks (24-4, 13-2 Pac-12) still hope to capture a second straight regular-season Pac-12 title, while the Bears (18-8, 9-5) need a big win to ensure their inclusion in the NCAA tournament.

Oregon needs some help to earn a share of the conference crown. The Ducks are in second place, one game behind Arizona, which is 14-1 and hosts UCLA and USC this week.

“I wish we had it in our control, but we don’t,” Oregon coach Dana Altman told the Eugene Register-Guard. “We have to get some help. Arizona is a very tough club, but we have to take care of our own business. We have three left and there are a lot of ifs, but we don’t have control, which is a disappointment.”

All three of Oregon’s remaining regular-season games (California, Stanford and Oregon State) are on the road, and that is an issue for the Ducks, who finished 17-0 at home but are just 4-3 in true road games.

The Ducks handled Cal 86-63 in their first meeting on Jan. 19, but that game was in Eugene, Ore. The Bears are 14-2 at home this season, losing only to Virginia by four points and to Arizona by five.

“We have to take care of our business and hope something good happens,” Altman said. “If it doesn’t, we’ll try to go win the conference tournament title, but we’d like to be involved down the stretch here.”

What has helped Oregon recently is the play of Dillon Brooks. He is averaging 15.4 points per game, tops on the team, but over the past six games he has averaged 21.3 points while making 22 of 38 3-pointers (57.9 percent).

Brooks scored 23 points in the Ducks’ 101-73 thrashing of Colorado on Saturday in Oregon’s final home game.

He played only 13 minutes in the first game against Cal before leaving with a lower-leg injury, so he should be a bigger factor Wednesday.

Likewise, Cal should expect to get more from its star, Ivan Rabb, who had just four points on 2-of-10 shooting along with six rebounds in the earlier meeting with the Ducks.

Rabb is averaging 14.8 points and a conference-leading 10.7 rebounds per game, and the Bears need production from Rabb to enhance their chances of landing an NCAA tournament berth for the second straight year.

Those postseason hopes were dealt a blow on Saturday when Cal lost on the road to a Stanford team that was 4-9 in the conference and had lost five of its previous six games.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi still has the Bears in his projected NCAA tournament field as a No. 10 seed as of Monday, but losing to Stanford pushed the Bears onto the bubble.

That was not on the mind of Cal coach Cuonzo Martin immediately following the loss, though.

“It concerns me because we lost, but outside of that I’m not concerned with the other parts,” Martin said. “It concerned me because we lost the game, and we had 20 turnovers, and we didn’t play well. Our bigs, Kameron (Rooks) and Kingsley (Okoroh), didn’t play well against (Stanford forward) Reid Travis. Those are the things that concern me. You can’t have 20 turnovers, especially against a team that’s not pressing you. You’ve got to take care of the ball.”

Asked to explain the 20 turnovers, Martin said, “I wish I could. This is college basketball; (you’ve) got to take care of the ball.”

Jabari Bird was the Bears’ high scorer in that game with 23 points, but his play didn’t thrill Martin either.

“I thought he was OK,” Martin said. “I’ve never been consumed with how many points a guy scores; it’s the whole floor game. I didn’t think he had a great game. He scored 23 points, but I didn’t think he had a great floor game with six turnovers.”

The Bears need a quality win to put on their resume, and a victory over Oregon would provide that. Cal has beaten the Ducks five of the past six times they met at Cal’s Haas Pavilion, and that includes last season’s 83-63 victory over an Oregon team that would wind up with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

To beat Oregon again, Cal must rely on its strengths — defense and rebounding.

The Bears rank first in the Pac-12 in both scoring defense, yielding 62.7 points per game, and field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot 39.0 percent. The Ducks’ 86 points and 58 percent shooting in the earlier meeting are both season highs for a Cal opponent.

The Bears are second in the conference in rebounding margin at plus-7.3.

“Cal and Stanford are some of the top rebounding teams, so it is big for us to focus on that now,” Ducks guard Dylan Ennis said, according to the Register-Guard. “Especially on the road where we don’t have our crowd to cheer for us.”