By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, CA–In a season of postponements, personnel changes and COVID, Stanford’s the national leader in making uncomfortable comfortable.
They just played their first home game–after 16 away from Maples Pavilion–on Tuesday. They showed up at Cal Thursday weary from rescheduled games that made this their fourth game in eight days. And once again, for the fifth straight game the Cardinal didn’t have Daejon Davis, Bryce Wills or Ziaire Williams, their NBA-aspiring freshman.
Never mind and no problem, said coach Jerod Haase.
“We don’t know who’s going to be out there, but we do know we’re gonna compete,” Haase promised in his press conference earlier this week.
In short, Stanford minimized its problems which made Cal’s issues loom larger coming in to Thursday’s Big Game on the hardwood at Haas Pavilion.
And the Bears–mired in a five-game losing streak–couldn’t get untracked offensively in a 70-55 loss in which they shot just 36 percent from the floor and watched the Cardinal’s Oscar da Silva take over with 24 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
“We had no answer for him. He was just too big, too quick, too long,” coach Mark Fox said of da Silva, the Pac-12’s leading scorer.
With da Silva, and without their next three best players in Wills, Davis and Williams, Stanford’s become bigger and more stubborn. Against Cal, they took the ball to the rim persistently and effectively, shooting 63 percent in the game’s first 17 minutes to lead 36-29.
Freshman Noah Taitz finished off a near perfect half for Stanford with three straight baskets, the second a breakaway dunk after Cal’s Ryan Betley was stripped by Spencer Jones.
Cal rallied briefly in the second half, getting within 46-43 at one point, only to fade. For stretches, Stanford went with four freshman and da Silva, and experienced no drop-off. That Stanford was able to gather 40 of their 70 points in the paint said everything regarding the talent disparity between the rival programs.
“Even though we’re better in some areas than we were last year, we still have a talent deficiency,” Fox admitted, “and we have to accept that and play a certain way.”
Stanford hounded Cal with on-ball pressure on the perimeter, then doubled any Bears with the ball on the block. That left Cal with few options. They missed mid-range shots, and played carelessly with the ball, contributing to eight Stanford steals and two blocks. The 3-point line wasn’t kind either, Cal missed 16 of 22 attempts there.
Had Stanford not squandered 10 of their 24 free throw opportunities, things could have gotten worse.
Given Stanford’s success at both ends, Fox said the Bears will play with a more deliberate pace in Sunday’s rematch at Stanford as they try to avoid a sixth straight loss.
“This team can be maybe a little prettier (than last season’s group) but it’s still going to have to be really ugly for this group to win,” Fox said.
Matt Bradley led Cal (2-11, 7-13) with 24 points. Andre Kelly added 15, while the trio of Grant Anticevich, Makale Foreman and Betley saw their struggles extend from Saturday’s loss at Arizona with 4 of 23 combined shooting.
Jaden Delaire added 14 and Taitz 10 for Stanford (11-7, 7-5).
In another Pac-12 scheduling head scratcher, Sunday’s rematch will tip at 7pm, right when Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes duel down the stretch in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
Talk about not giving these two teams a chance to draw a television audience.