By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, CA–An upset realized despite the slimmest margin of error?
Yes, that would describe the Cal Bears’ unlikely, come-from-behind 52-50 win over rival Stanford on Sunday. For the Bears, the win provides a measure of affirmation in a season as trying as any. For Stanford, a damaging loss that knocks the surprising Cardinal out of first place in the Pac-12, and puts pause to their NCAA tournament hopes.
So how did Cal pull it off? Simply, they never wavered.
“We just kept on fighting,” said Kareem South, who contributed 13 points, including a pair of big buckets in the final five minutes. “And that was the result of the game. You know, we were down eleven at one point and, you know, credit to Stanford’s team, they’re a really good team. But we just kept on being physical and kept on fighting to the last play.”
With 12 minutes remaining, not only did the Bears trail 39-28 as South referenced, but they were on a lethargic point a minute pace that was established in their 50-40 loss at UCLA last weekend and continued unabated in front of their anxious crowd of 9,000 on Sunday at Haas Pavilion. Quite simply, not only were the Bears on their way to another sleepy loss but they were threatening to drive their fans batty with their inability to score.
Then everything changed in the bat of an eye, as the Bears put together a 17-2 run that gave them their first lead of the second half. And that just as quickly meant that a game that was being won by Stanford at the defensive end was now in Cal’s control courtesy of their defense.
“We started out the second very poorly defensively and then we didn’t finish a couple of plays,” coach Mark Fox said. “It took us several minutes to get it kind of locked back in defensively. So there’s some room for improvement there. You know, Stanford has a good team and they’re a hard team to guard. And we were fortunate to guard them well today.”
Over the final 12 minutes, the Cal defense proved subtly effective, harassing Stanford into seven missed shots and three turnovers while finally getting a handle of Tyrell Terry, the Cardinal’s high-scoring freshman guard. But just as pivotal was Oscar da Silva’s missed free throw with 1:16 remaining that would have allowed Stanford to regain the lead.
After Matt Bradley was errant on a 3-point attempt, Cal regained possession courtesy of Joel Brown’s steal. That set the stage for Paris Austin in the final seconds, who drove to the basket and drew a foul with three seconds remaining.
“We’re in the bonus and Paris had a hot hand,” Fox said. “I knew he could draw a foul and we could win the game at the free throw line. Fortunately, it worked out for us.”
Austin calmly knocked down both free throws, and Stanford failed to get a shot off in the game’s final seconds propelling Cal to the win.
For the fourth time this season, the Bears scored just 52 points. But instead of a double-digit loss, this time 52 points equaled a victory.