By Morris Phillips
The Cal Bears didn’t pick the best occasion to draw attention to themselves, but they drew notice nonetheless by surprising Stanford in their Pac-12 Tournament opener.
Against the backdrop of the Coronavirus, and the news of events being cancelled worldwide because of the pandemic, the tenth-seeded Bears put forth their most focused effort of the season by beating Stanford, 63-51 and doing so from beginning to end at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“I saw a team all week that was preparing to play, and I thought we were excited to come play, and then I watched the broadcast and everyone was picking against us, I wasn’t sure if we were still in the league! But I knew our kids were ready to play,” coach Mark Fox kidded in an interview with the Pac-12 Network following the game.
The Bears took an early lead only to see the Cardinal tie the score, 17-17 with 5:29 remaining before halftime. But Paris Austin and Kareem South followed with consecutive jumpers keying a 7-0 Cal run, and the Bears maintained the lead over the game’s final 24 minutes.
The Bears advance to a quarterfinal matchup with second-seeded UCLA on Thursday while Stanford suffered a bad loss in a game they badly needed for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament.
Stanford seemed bothered by the physicality of the game, shooting just 32 percent from the floor in dropping their third, straight game. The Cardinal finish the regular season 20-12 with favorable, peripheral numbers preferred by the NCAA selection committee, but the loss leaves them squarely on the bubble. The Cardinal received an unlikely endorsement from Fox after the game.
“This league deserves to have seven teams in the NCAA Tournament. Stanford had some great wins,” Fox said.
The Bears were led by Matt Bradley and Austin with 18 points, six rebounds each. South added 15 as the Bears shot 48 percent from the floor. Cal has won four of seven after losing seven of nine, and advanced in the conference tournament for the first time since 2017.
The Bears are expected to play the remainder of the tournament without fans attending their games as the conference announced before the Cal-Stanford game commenced that attendance to the remaining games would be severely restricted.
“We love to play in front of fans, but right now safety is the most important thing,” Austin said.