Cal’s rollercoaster season continues in Pac-12 opening win at Stanford

Stanford forward Michael Humphrey (10) battles for a loose ball against California guard Don Coleman (14) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)


By Morris Phillips

The switch operating the team performance appliance for Cal basketball didn’t get flipped until less than 10 minutes remained in Saturday’s conference opener at Stanford.

But once switched, the effect was immediate.

The Bears’ zone defense that was ineffective from the start disappeared. A menacing man-to-man scheme took its place. Despite a 17-point halftime deficit, the belief returned. And then the made baskets, one after another.

“Once our guys got settled in and saw what they were trying to do, we started doing a better job of containing them off the dribble,” Coach Wyking Jones said of the comeback that would wipe out Stanford’s big lead in the final seven minutes of the game.
“Nick Hamilton came in and really gave us a spark. His energy and enthusiasm–the other guys feed off of it. Once we did a better job of keeping them off the offensive glass, it worked out for us.”

For Cal, winning at Maples Pavilion has never been easy. Mike Montgomery did it on his initial visit as the opposing coach, then suffered a slew of losses in the ensuing years.  Jaylen Brown didn’t win at Stanford in his one opportunity. Ivan Rabb got two shots and came up empty. Jason Kidd won at Maples once–at the time it felt like the breakthrough of the century.

And this edition of California basketball coming off an embarrassing 25-point loss to Portland State at home, not to mention similar defeats at the hands of Central Arkansas, Cal State Northridge and Chaminade? They put on their super hero capes and pulled off a tremendous finish that gathered the collective strengths of a group that had been up and down throughout the non-conference slate.

Marcus Lee overcame early foul trouble and, along with Kingsley Okoroh, anchored the defense late. Lee finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. Justice Sueing scored eight points in the final three minutes. And little utilized freshman Grant Anticevich canned a key three-pointer down the stretch.

And in a battle of struggling clubs grasping for 40 minutes of consistency, the Bears came up with 10 minutes of winning play that they’re unlikely to forget.

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