Cal fends off Stanford 64-59 in final game of regular season

Photo credit: @CalMBBall

By: Eric Epstein

PALO ALTO, Calif. — The University of California Golden Bears bested the Stanford Cardinal at Maples Pavillion Thursday night with a score of 64-59, spoiling Stanford’s Senior Night and last game of the regular season. With their loss, Stanford moved to 8-10 in Pac-12 play, leaving them in 10th place in the conference. Cal improves their Pac-12 record to 3-15, however, they still sit at the bottom of the conference standings.

The Bears dominated the first half, outscoring the Cardinal 37-24. Only a couple minutes into the game, Cal rattled off a 17-0 run over five minutes, extending their lead to 19 points only 10 minutes into the game. Stanford was able to slowly narrow their deficit to 10 points before Cal freshman guard Matt Bradley banked home a long 3-point basket at the half to give the Bears a 13-point lead going into the locker room.

In the first period, Cal shot with much higher efficiency from Stanford everywhere except for the foul line. The Bears made 6 out of their 10 3-point attempts, whereas the Cardinal were not able to connect on any of their 12 tries.

7-foot-3 freshman Connor Vanover provided the Cal offense with a red-hot shooting spree, scoring his 18 first-half points on 7-8 shooting, including connecting on all 4 of his three-point attempts.

The first half Stanford offense ran through sophomore forward KZ Okpala, who scored 13 points on 6-8 shooting. Stanford struggled mightily with ball security and playmaking, as they turned the ball over 8 times and only totaled 3 assists. With usual starting point guard Daejon Davis still sidelined with a foot injury, the bulk of the ballhandling was done by freshman guards Bryce Wills and Cormac Ryan.

Cal scored three straight buckets to open the second half, increasing their lead to a game-high 21 points. The two squads traded off bursts of scoring until Stanford was able to string together some quick baskets and defensive stops to decrease the lead to single digits with 4 minutes left in the game. After missing their first 21 3-point attempts, Stanford hit 3 straight 3-pointers down the stretch to work the Cal lead down to a measly 3 points. However, Vanover responded on the other end, drawing an and-one foul on a shot under the basket. After that, the Cardinal were forced to play the foul game and could not make up the 6 point deficit incurred in the final minute.

Vanover led the game in scoring with 24 points on 9-12 shooting and 5-6 from three. Bradley and junior guard Paris Austin also lit up the scoreboard with 14 and 15 points, respectively. Sophomore forward Justice Sueing also pitched in a notable effort of his own, scoring 9 points and 10 rebounds en route to a near double-double. Only 5 Cal players got on the scoreboard Thursday evening, and the Bears bench was only able to scrape 2 points together over the course of the whole game.

Okpala led the Cardinal in scoring yet again with 21 points on 9-14 shooting. Senior center Josh Sharma put on a good show for Senior Night with 11 points and 13 rebounds, however, his game was cut a couple of minutes short due to his fifth personal foul. Ryan, who missed his first 7 shots, caught on fire down the stretch for 8 points on 3 shots. He also recorded a very impressive no-look overhead pass from his back to a streaking Marcus Sheffield for a transition bucket late in the second half.

This marks the last game for the Cardinal before the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas next week. This game likely marks the last home game for graduating senior Josh Sharma as well as sophomore KZ Okpala, who is expected to enter the NBA Draft this summer.