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February 16, 2012
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BERKELEY -- When the preseason Pac-12 media poll was released, Oregon was picked to finish fifth. In 2011, the Ducks went 21-18 en route to taking home the CBI title. In his second year at the helm, head coach Dana Altman has guided his squad to quietly one of the more surprising seasons in the Pac-12, sitting just a game back of Washington and Thursday opponent California (20-6, 9-3) in the race for the regular-season conference title.
"They're in second place. I think it's probably pretty important, if they can beat us," said Bears head coach Mike Montgomery." It puts them even with us. They're kind of quietly maybe under the radar, maybe not there, but they're one game back. If you're looking at tie-breakers, if you're looking at a lot of things, that could go a long way to helping them, plus road wins. It's got to be important. It's important to all of us at this stage."
Oregon (18-7, 9-4 in Pac-12) ranks right behind Cal in scoring offense, averaging 70.6 points per game (fourth in the league) and is fifth in three-point percentage (37.4), in large part thanks to the sniping of senior guard Garrett Sim, who is second in the league in three-point shooting (46.8 percent).
The Ducks boast wins over both Stanford and UCLA, and blasted the Huskies to the tune of 82-57 at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore., on Feb. 9, once again, thanks to Sim, who shot 5-for-9 from the field and finished with 13 points.
"They're good. They were good when we played them the first time. They're good now," Montgomery said. "Obviously, if they're making shots, they're better, and against Washington, Sim came out with the first eight points and ... that helps everybody, when a guy does something like that." Sim is averaging 12.0 points per game and is shooting 49 percent from the field on the season, but when he goes cold, Oregon suffers. When Sim shoots 40 percent or less from the field, the Ducks are 1-6, including last time out against the Bears. Oregon, though, has won six of its past eight games since last facing Cal on Jan. 8.
In that contest, Sim shot just 2-for-6, scoring five points in a 77-60 Cal victory. As a team, the Ducks shot 38.3 percent from the field and 27.8 percent from three-point range, coughing the ball up 14 times to the Bears' 10 turnovers, and were victimized by six steals, with two apiece coming from pesky senior guard Jorge Gutierrez and true freshman David Kravish. It didn't hurt that Cal got a virtuoso performance from sophomore wing Allen Crabbe, who hit 9-of-16 from the field and 6-of-8 from beyond the arc to finish with 26 points and a game-high 12 rebounds for good measure -- twice the number of boards as the highest total from any single Oregon player.
"I think they're pretty solid. I think they know who they are. I think they know what they have to do, and we played very, very well against them last time," Montgomery said. "We had our backs against the wall, really competed, Jorge had a great first half, Crabbe had a great second half."
As valuable as Sim has been -- checking in at No. 21 on the list of the conference's top scorers -- senior guard Devoe Joseph has been a revelation, ranking fifth in the conference in scoring (15.7 ppg), just a shade behind fourth-place Crabbe (15.9).
Joseph -- like Cal sophomore point guard Justin Cobbs -- transferred from Minnesota, where he played for three seasons before transferring during the 2010-11 season. Not missing a beat, Joseph has come on to not only rank among the Pac-12 scoring leaders, but he also checks in at No. 15 in the league in assists (2.9 apg), No. 8 in free-throw percentage (81.0), fifth in three-point shooting (44.6 percent) and ninth in steals (1.4 spg).
"We're in first place, and we have a chance to stay there, as long as we take care of business, and do our jobs," said senior Bears power forward Harper Kamp. "That's the most important thing."
Kamp had a rough go of things against the Ducks last time out. In foul trouble for much of the night, Kamp played just 25 minutes, tallying four points and two assists while committing four turnovers. Over the past four games, Kamp is averaging 14 points and five rebounds per game, surpassing the 1,000-point/500-rebound mark against the Bruins to become the 18th player in program history to achieve that feat.
Over that same four-game stretch, the Bears have shot 49.1 percent from the field and averaged 16.75 assists, after coming in shooting 48.3 percent and averaging 16.3 assists per game.
"For everybody, they kind of have a feeling of who they are," Montgomery said. "Substitution, Robert Thurman has helped us. Coming in, at least we know what Robert's going to give us. Again, it's just a matter of being revved up to play defense and working hard to take certain things away. We kind of have a little bit of a feeling of who's open and where they're supposed to get the ball, what they can do. I think, for all of us, at this stage, you're at the point where you kind of know what you have to do, and you've just got to go out and execute.
"We've got to play hard to win. That doesn't change. We've got to play hard to win. That's the way we are. We can't go out and not play hard. We don't have that kind of talent."