CORVALLIS, Ore. — The puzzle that is Oregon State basketball left Cal frustrated and defeated for the third time in two seasons on Thursday night, the Golden Bears missing a chance to pad their Pac-10 lead after an 80-64 loss at Gill Coliseum.
Cal, battling for its first conference title in 50 seasons, never led after the opening 70 seconds against a team that entered the game in seventh place.
The Bears (17-9, 9-5), swept by the Beavers a year ago, couldn't figure out OSU's 1-3-1 zone defense and couldn't contain senior center Roeland Schaftenaar, who equaled his season high with 22 points.
"We weren't able to solve anything they were doing to us. Really just beat us in every aspect of the game,'' senior Theo Robertson said. "Until you solve it, you can't really feel that confident against them."
Cal remains alone at the top of the conference standings heading into Saturday's game against last-place Oregon. But idle Arizona State (18-8, 8-5) and USC (16-9, 8-5 after beating Washington) are now within a half-game of the Bears.
"I'm really upset about this game," point guard Jerome Randle said. "We really could have separated ourselves from everybody. Our backs are against the wall. We really have to win Saturday."
The Beavers (12-13, 6-7), who lost 99-48 at home this season to Seattle, were the better team in almost every respect Thursday.
"We didn't play well,'' Cal coach Mike Montgomery said.
He cited three areas of emphasis going into the game: Taking care of the ball, keeping OSU from getting second shots, and staying focused on defense against the Beavers' deliberate offense.
"We just were lulled to sleep, then they would drive and we would reach out and foul and they would shoot free throws,'' Montgomery said. "Twenty-four points off turnovers, (13) second shots and 36 foul shots ... on the road? Not going to work.''
For Randle, the reigning Pac-10 Player of the Week, it was the latest in a series of difficult games against the Beavers. The 5-foot-8 senior, often matched against defenders 8-to-10 inches taller in the OSU zone, shot 2-for-9 from the field (0-for-5 from the 3-point line) and scored six points.
In his past three games against the Beavers, Randle is 7-for-29 from the field, just 1-for-16 from beyond the arc.
"I definitely don't feel like they were in my head. I knew what I was up against before I got here,'' said Randle, who entered the game averaging 19.8 points. "I was just trying to get everybody involved and lead the guys. Maybe I should have been a little more aggressive.''
Montgomery said a lack of aggression often is the issue when the Bears don't win. "There's little things we could have done, and we just caved in to stuff," he said.
Cal shot 54 percent in the first half and trailed just 39-36. But the Beavers were better still in the second half, quickly pushing the lead out to double figures. The Bears shot just 37.5 percent in the second half, 1-for-10 from 3-point range.
Patrick Christopher scored just three of his 12 points in the first half, and Robertson, after logging 13 first-half points, managed just two more.
OSU, which averages a conference-low 59.6 points, scored its season high. Besides Schaftenaar, who was 12-for-15 at the foul line, four other Beavers scored in double digits, including former San Leandro High star Jared Cunningham, who had 11.