By Morris Phillips
PALO ALTO–Strategically, this was not the Cal Bears’ night.
Looking to lean heavily on their size and skill to end a three-game losing streak to archrival Stanford, the Bears instead were reduced to shooting jump shots and left to the mercy of the referee’s whistles.
While Cal’s star freshman, 6’11” Ivan Rabb took just five shots and fouled out, Stanford’s 6’3” Marcus Allen took 16 foul shots, and as much as any player on the floor for either team, had his way.
Not the way Cal drew it up, and consequently, the results were not kind. The Bears dropped their third straight road game, losing 77-71 to Stanford, and in the process, draining every last drop of momentum the Bears had built in an impressive 2-0 start in Pac-12 play.
A brief, six-point lead for the Bears 10 minutes in proved to be the high point for Cal on a night in which 30 of their 60 shots from the field came from behind the 3-point arc. Throughout, Stanford stubbornly sat in a 2-3 zone and battled the Bears tooth and nail every time they ventured in the paint. Meanwhile, Cal did little to shake the familiar scouting report that says don’t let the Bears play inside out, drive and kick.
“Yeah, we have to get to the basket a little more, but we’ll figure it out,” Jaylen Brown said. “I give credit to Stanford. They did a good job of closing off the lanes.”
The Bears did change things up a little, playing their two point guards, Tyrone Wallace and Sam Singer, together in hopes of better ball movement, but even that was done out of necessity, after Brown drew two quick fouls and sat for 18 of the first 20 minutes of the game. Brown hit the floor running in the second half, but missed a couple of free throws late, right after being whistled for a phantom foul on Allen, who was cruising in for a layup in transition.
Rabb’s night was drab, missing the game’s final five minutes after fouling out within two minutes of returning to the floor with 7:34 remaining, and Cal hoping to make a final push, down six.
Of the 30 attempts from distance, almost all were good looks, but came in the absence of the Bears forcing the issue in the paint. Cal made a respectable 12 of those 30, and Jabari Bird’s back-to-back threes midway through the second half got Cal even for the last time. But with Cal losing the rebounding battle, allowing Stanford to shoot 50 percent from the field before halftime, along with gifting the Cardinal with 38 free throw attempts (of which they made 30), the shots from distance stood out as a game plan gone astray, although Coach Cuonzo Martin didn’t necessarily see it that way.
“If they’re going in, 40 percent from the 3-point line isn’t bad,” Martin said. “If they’re good shots, we’re ready to catch and shoot.”
Stanford did its part to keep Cal within hailing distance, missing three free throws down the stretch along with a turnover. But the Bears never seized the offer, committing a critical five second penalty, trying to inbound the ball right in front of their own bench with less than a minute to go, down 72-69.
While Cal struggled, Allen did not. In the final five plus minutes, he marched to the line repeatedly, scoring 10 of his 16 points at the foul stripe. Emboldened by Coach Johnny Dawkins, Allen kept driving and probing. The referees did the rest.
The Bears return home next Thursday to face Arizona State, and then see pre-season conference favorite Arizona on Saturday. The Sun Devils and new head coach Bobby Hurley earned their first Pac-12 win on Thursday night, beating Washington State at home. ASU had been the conference’s only winless team coming into the night’s action.