February 23, 2013
Just over a month ago California dropped a 69-59 decision at rival Stanford, falling to 2-3 in Pac-12 play and not having the look of an NCAA tournament team.
Mike Montgomery's Golden Bears have gone 7-2 since that loss, which includes their current streak of six wins in their last seven games, and at this rate Cal has to be considered a serious challenger for the Pac-12 title with just over two weeks remaining in the regular season.
Justin Cobbs was the hero on Thursday, as his contested jumper with seven tenths of a second remaining gave Cal a 48-46 win at Oregon and moved the Golden Bears to within a game of the Ducks and Arizona in the conference standings.
In Cobbs and Allen Crabbe the Golden Bears have one of the better perimeter scoring tandems that you'll find in college basketball, but just as important to California's improved play of late has been their work on the defensive end.
Oregon shot just 27.6% from the field against the Golden Bears, and the absence of freshman point guard Dominic Artis isn't the only reason why the Ducks ran into trouble offensively. Oregon entered Thursday's game second in the conference in field goal percentage (league games only), and Cal was able to hold them nearly 17 percentage points below their mark for the year (44.3%).
Also of note is the improved play of junior forward Richard Solomon, who accounted for eight points and 11 rebounds in Eugene. In the last seven games Solomon is averaging 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest, and even though those numbers are slightly above his season averages (8.6 and 6.5) Solomon has been more consistent during this current stretch.
Since their loss in Palo Alto California has swept Oregon and also has a win over Arizona, which gives them the tiebreaker over both teams should they wind up tied atop the Pac-12 standings.
With three of their final four games in Berkeley the Golden Bears are in good position to earn a ticket to the NCAA tournament, but why not be "greedy?" The Pac-12 title is there for the taking, and in recent weeks Cal has shown themselves capable of winning it.
Video credit: ESPN
Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.