BERKELEY – After an historic defeat of then-No. 1 Arizona on Saturday, the California men’s basketball team was eager to keep building on the and sustain its winning ways. What happened on Wednesday against Stanford was the exactly the opposite. The Bears were dominated by a Cardinal side that potentially solidified it’s NCAA tournament bid, and saved their head coach’s job in the process. Down by as many as 18 points, Cal got as close as five in the second half, but the Bears eventually fell by a final of 80-69 at Haas Pavilion to a team they had defeated to start Pac-12 play.
Cal (15-8, 6-4 Pac-12) came out extremely flat, going down by 18 with six and a half minutes left in the first half, with 26 out of the 36 points in the half coming from Justin Cobbs and David Kravish. Despite the deficit, the Bears fought back in the second half, able to cut it to 52-47 with 13:08 left, but after a scoring drought of four minutes they found themselves down 14 again, ending any hope of a comeback. Even Cobbs couldn’t follow up his heroics from earlier in the week, as he had a terrible second half with three turnovers and eight points on 40% shooting.
“We just missed our shots and they’d come down and convert,” said Kravish about the run in the early second half. “I had that feeling [that things were out of sync]. It felt like we didn’t have a flow and shots weren’t going down for us today. ”
The Bears began the game with the same line up that defeated Arizona earlier in the week, with Cobbs, Tyrone Wallace, and Jordan Matthews in the backcourt. In addition to Cobbs’ 24 points, Kravish played well as he led the team in the first ten minutes, scoring eight, before finishing the game with 12 points. Kravish’s frontcourt partner Richard Solomon, though, had an unusually quiet night, contributing six points and nine rebounds, well below his double-double average, while not registering his first basket until 3:30 was left in the game. Wallace made it three scorers in double figures for Cal as he contributed 21 points.
“We had trouble scoring, no question about that,” said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery. “We had a run second half that got us to six. We got off to a slow start and wanted to get it under ten. We got three great looks coming out of the locker room, better shots than we got probably the whole game, to start the second half. We didn’t make any of them and so we just struggled. We made some poor decisions mentally in that stretch rather than being patient, and we couldn’t keep them off the foul line. We couldn’t defend.”
The Bears shot 41.3% from the field and 41.7% from three, while Stanford was only marginally better, shooting 43.4% from the field and 42.9% from three. Cal won the rebounding battle, 41-34, but lost the turnover battle, 13-9, which allowed for 13 second-chance points for the Cardinal, to go along with a 21-11 points-off-turnovers margin.
“You got to make plays, you got to play hard, you got to defend, and you got to board,” said Montgomery. “I’ve got 11 guys that can play and in one way or another could justify getting some playing time, and I’ve just got to figure out who can help us the most in terms of what they can contribute.”
The Cardinal were led by Dwight Powell, who seemed to score at-will inside against the usually strong Cal interior defense. He contributed 22 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists on the inside, while Stanford guards Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown added 19 and 16, respectively.
“As always, it’s an incredible game,” said Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins. “Anytime you have a rival game, you just never know what you’re going to get. I think that’s evident in just the way the game was played. Both teams were making runs, and both team’s were battling. We’re fortunate that we came out as the winner tonight. ”
Cal got behind early, already losing 26-16 just ten minutes into the game, and the Bears never seemed likely to catch up in the rest of the first half, with Stanford maintaining a fairly comfortable lead. However, the Bears did close on a 16-4 run to cut the lead to six just before halftime, with Cobbs nailing a three at the buzzer to make it 42-36 at the break.
“If you play well and you play hard, you can beat anyone,” said Montgomery. “If you don’t you can get beat by anyone. It’s no more complex than that and we have breakdowns and those hurts us. Our veterans have to compete and lead and that’s going to give us our best chance.”
In the first half Cal’s offense came out sluggish as they shot 42% from the field, resulting in a paltry 36 points. On the other hand, the Cardinal came out streaking. Stanford consistently hit three after three throughout the early going as the Cardinal shot 45% from the field and 50% from three, going 6-of-12.
“We were not very sharp offensively,” said Montgomery. “We ended up with 41 percent for the game and it seemed like a lot worse than that. They’re very physical, and we didn’t handle that well, and as a result we got into a huge hole.”
However at halftime, it all changed again for the Bears. After a big run put them within striking distance coming into the second half, a 17-5 Stanford run with 13 minutes to go took away any chance of a Cal comeback. The Cardinal never looked back, maintaining a double-digit advantage throughout the rest of the game, before eventually winning 80-69.
“I thought Stanford deserved to win,” said Montgomery. “I thought they played well and they had some key people preform. We had some key people not preform, not make shots, and not do what they normally do.”
While this is another disappointing loss for a Bears squad that looked like a dangerous tournament team after defeating the No. 1 ranked team in the nation and starting 5-0 in Pac-12 play, they must quickly regroup before they lose too much ground in a tight Pac-12 conference that continues to beat up on each other. And if Cal wants to have any hope of securing their NCAA tournament birth, they will have to regroup and play a much better game than they did tonight, otherwise the Bears may be looking at another year on the bubble.