Cal rallies only to fall short in 61-58 loss to Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament

By Morris Phillips

A year after the onset of COVID-19, and the abrupt departure of sporting events across America, the mindsets of the Cal Bears and Colorado Buffaloes heading into their Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal had similar themes.

A year ago, the youthful Bears ended their season with a win–against rival Stanford no less–and the Buffaloes were left with the sour taste of an upset loss to 11th-seeded Washington State.

Great memories for Cal, bad memories for Colorado, and the overwhelming unlikelihood that both teams would leave Las Vegas this year with the same emotions.

Colorado, despite an awful start–and bunch of resistance from Cal–held on to beat the Bears, 61-58 and advance to the tournament semifinals against USC on Friday night.

“You got to figure out a way to win when you don’t play
your best, we did that tonight, and we weren’t at our best,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “And again Cal had a lot to do with that and I’ve got great respect for what Mark Fox is doing. They have had a rough year in terms of wins and losses, but, man, they have been in every game and tonight’s another example.”

“They didn’t give up and they made it hard on us.”

Remarkably, in the 23 years of the Pac-12 Tournament, only two 11th-seeded teams have managed to win games–Washington State last year against Colorado, and Cal in their opener on Wednesday also against Stanford. Given that, being 11th in the Pac-12 isn’t a harbinger for success, and it wasn’t again Thursday. After both teams waited an additional hour to hit the floor while USC and Utah battled through two overtimes, a sloppy game broke out. In the end, the Buffaloes’ defense reigned supreme, as they held Cal to 38 percent shooting and stopped leading scorer Matt Bradley dead in his tracks.

With Bradley shadowed by 6’3″ master defender Eli Parquet–along with a host of others providing double teams–Cal’s leader missed his first six shots as the Buffs built a double-digit lead with 11:41 remaining. Bradley would find some light down the stretch and finished with 10 points, but Colorado’s strategy was a success: take Bradley away, and force his teammates to respond, which never really happened.

“They trapped him on ball screens on the wings as well, and so we went to some isolations for him, and I thought that a couple times we didn’t come, on the pass out we didn’t come meet the ball,” coach Mark Fox said of the defense against Bradley. “I think that he finally got a little bit of rhythm in the second half. I probably played Matt… 38 minutes last night was a lot… and in hindsight I probably should have tried to save a couple minutes on him last night because I thought he looked a little fatigued today.”

“But I won’t be critical of our players. Execution in that situation wasn’t as clean as we wanted, but I thought our intent and our decision was the right way.”

Cal led for the game’s first 16 minutes after a 7-0 start to the game. But the Buffs missed good looks as often as Cal forced bad ones, best referenced by McKinley Wright IV’s poor start in which he missed six of his first seven shots. Once Jabari Walker converted a 3-point play, and 7’0″ Dallas Walton surprised everyone with a 3-point shot on the ensuing possession to put the Buffs up 20-16, they took control.

Cal trailed 61-52 with a 1:05 remaining, and then managed a desperation run in which Jalen Celestine scored six, quick points and Makale Foreman could have tied the game with a 3-point shot with five seconds to go. But Foreman ‘s shot bounced away and third-seeded Colorado survived.

“That’s his shot, he hits that shot all the time and when I see it I thought it was going to be good, obviously it didn’t go in but he shoots that shot all the time and that’s a shot that we like for him to take,” Grant Anticevich said of Foreman’s attempt to tie the game.

The Bears finish the season 9-20, their third 20-loss campaign in the last four years.

Bear Trap: Cal upsets Stanford at the Pac-12 Tournament again, wins 76-58

By Morris Phillips

At some point during Cal’s unprecedented 10-day break bridging the regular season and the Pac-12 Tournament, some teaching went on.

Coach Mark Fox, mindful of his team’s glaring defensive deficiencies, got demanding. Fox taught, the players learned, physicality was introduced, and at some point knowledge turned to belief for the conference’s lowest-seeded team.

“A teacher is only a good teacher if the students learn,” Fox said. “And obviously I did a terrible job of teaching our defense this year because it’s been awful. Tonight is what it should look like all the time.”

On Wednesday night in Las Vegas, Stanford found out first hand what had been learned in Berkeley. In a stunning reversal, Cal shut down the Cardinal on the interior, and answered two, lopsided losses to their rival with a wire-to-wire 76-58 upset win.

The 11th-seeded Bears (their lowest seeding ever in the Pac-12 Tournament) controlled the glass, didn’t get burned in the paint, then coupled that with a patient, and efficient offensive showing that was easily their best in a disjointed season that saw them lose 19 games. After Stanford ate Cal alive in the paint to the tune of 84 points combined in the two regular season meetings, the Bears muscled up and pushed back.

“We didn’t rebound it very well the early part of February, and slowly our rebound numbers have been improving,” Fox said of Cal’s 31-22 edge on the glass. “They bought into it, and I thought it carried over to the game today. We played very physical on the backboards today.”

Cal scored the game’s first six points and never looked back. They lead by as many as nine in the first half, and by six at the break. With Stanford showing some resolve, the Cardinal creeped to within one at 52-51 with 6:08 remaining. After Cal’s Joel Brown inexplicably missed a layup, Stanford gained possession looking for their first lead. But Matt Bradley blocked Lukas Kisunas’ shot and Ryan Betley freed himself for a 3-pointer at the other end. That started Cal’s 24-7 finishing run that saw them win going away.

“He’s known for doing that,” Andre Kelly said of Bradley’s rejection at the rim. “He’s an ultra competitor. He does that in practice all the time so it’s nothing special to me, but for you guys to see it is something cool.”

Bradley didn’t start in a move Fox declined to discuss. But the team’s leading scorer entered early and went on to lead Cal with 19 points, six assists and six rebounds. Kelly contributed 12 points, nine rebounds and Betley hit some timely daggers in a 13-point performance he squeezed into 16 minutes of floor time.

Jaden Delaire led the sixth-seeded Cardinal with 14 points, and Michael O’Connell and Oscar da Silva each had 12. Da Silva, the two-time, first team All Pac-12 performer suffered a leg injury previously and missed eight of his 12 shots. Ziaire Williams was unavailable due to a family matter in Los Angeles which means the Stanford freshman who is a presumed NBA lottery pick this summer may never face Cal as a collegian. Williams missed all three games this season between the schools.

This was only the fifth time the two Bay Area rivals have met in 23 conference tournaments, and the odds of them meeting in consecutive tournaments are less than 3 percent. Couple that with Cal’s win and last year’s 63-51 upset of Stanford, and the Bears truly grabbed a piece of rivalry history with the double play.

The Bears advance to a quarterfinal meeting with third-seeded Colorado on Thursday at 8pm.

Ducks harass mistake-prone Cal, win 73-64 in regular season finale

(photo from calbears.com)

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–The most bizarre–and challenging–regular season of Cal Bears basketball has come to a close. Unfortunately, there was nothing far out and strange about Saturday’s loss to Oregon at Haas Pavilion.

In fact, it was more of the same: Cal played hard, and played focused, but we’re simply outclassed by the Ducks in a 74-63 decision.

LJ Figueroa led Oregon with 20 points, 14 rebounds, and five steals as the Ducks scored the game’s first four points and led start to finish, and by as much as 19 points in the second half. Eugene Omoruyi had 21 points, and Chris Duarte, 17 for the Ducks, who have won seven of eight.

“He definitely was the difference in the game,” UO coach Dana Altman said of Figueroa. “His activity defensively, early boards, I thought he was really good. Thought he played his tail off and did some really good things.”

Figueroa did a little of everything, but his work as the point man in the Ducks’ aggressive zone kept Cal’s offense from finding any rhythm as referenced by their paltry total of 14 assists, with eight of those coming from the two guys Cal most needs to score, not facilitate, Matt Bradley and Grant Anticevich. When Figueroa wasn’t disrupting Cal’s attack, his steals led led to a decisive 27-11 edge for Oregon in points off turnovers.

“Those easy baskets they get really impact your defensive numbers,” coach Mark Fox said. “I thought our half court defense finally looked like it did a year ago, but the turnovers, the easy baskets were really the difference in the game.”

Fox admitted that the season began with his coaching staff concerned that their point guard play might be lacking, and as the season turned to conference play, Pac-12 opponents forced the issue on a nightly basis. The Bears saw the majority of their opponents build a wall at the 3-point circle and severely limit Cal’s dribble penetration leading to tough perimeter shots or turnovers. The Ducks, with the smallish, quick lineup may have been the best at it, as they again stopped Cal at the point of attack as they did in an easy win in Eugene in January.

Bradley was made to suffer the most, as Cal’s leading scorer finished with 12 points and four turnovers. Ryan Betley led Cal with 13 points and Andre Kelly added 12. The Bears trailed 34-27 at the break after shooting 39 percent from the floor. Their shooting improved to 52 percent in the second half, but they still fell behind 70-51 before an 8-0 run with three minutes left brought some respectability.

The Bears (8-19, 3-17) last place finish in the Pac-12 comes with an alarming distinction: among Power 5 conference schools (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) only Boston College will finish the season with a lower power rating according to current Real Time RPI rankings. The Eagles, who fired coach Jim Christian mid-season on February 15, currently rank 261 out of 347, while Cal comes in at 246. What’s really disturbing is the company Cal keeps with them finishing far lower down the Division I ladder than the worst Power 5 teams typically finish with North Carolina A&T (11-10 in the MEAC) one spot ahead of Cal, and Manhattan (6-11 in the MAAC) one spot behind.

“It’s been a tough year to have a tough year,” Fox said of a season where his team has been isolated from other students, their campus environment and even themselves (only once did the team dine together in what was a socially distanced meal held outdoors) along with the mounting losses.

Fox is hoping that his team’s spirits will improve with fans and their parents present for the first time this season at the Pac-12 Tournament starting March 10. But even then, the players won’t be able to interact with their families due to COVID-19 protocols, limiting them to friendly waves and blown kisses from the arena floor into the stands.

And while several conference teams, including Oregon, play makeup games to cover for the season’s numerous postponements, the Bears must wait 12 days for the inevitability that they will at some point suffer their 20th and season-ending loss in Las Vegas.

Bears go cold after halftime and lose 59-57 to visiting Oregon State

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–The last time Oregon State won at Haas Pavilion before Thursday night, President Obama lent relevance to the occasion with a good-natured phone call of congratulations.

Flash forward 12 years, and this time, no one was present to feel the Bears’ pain.

After pulling within two points of a tie, Cal went the final 94 seconds scoreless in an aggravating 59-57 loss to OSU.

Roman Silva scored 13 of his 15 points after halftime, and Ethan Thompson added 12 as the Beavers broke a nine-game losing streak in Berkeley, and beat Cal for the third time in a season for the first time since 1989.

Cal made its first seven shots of the ballgame and led 14-2 only to see OSU seize control with a 9-0 run to start the second half. The Bears shot 28 percent after the break, and missed 10 of their 11 3-point attempts as Matt Bradley, who finished with 20 points (14 after halftime), became their only reliable option with the game on the line.

Still coach Mark Fox pointed to his Bears’ defensive liabilities which allowed OSU to enjoy 38 points in the paint and mask an 0 for 10 showing at the 3-point line.

“It’s the defensive possessions in the second half that were the difference in the game,” Fox said. “We did not defend to the level that you need to to win.”

In 2009, then OSU coach Craig Robinson called for a pivotal switch in the second half to a trapping, full court press that befuddled Cal in a 65-61 loss. After the game, Robinson–Michelle Obama’s brother–received a call of congratulations from brother-in-law Barack Obama from the White House. This time, the teams played in an empty gym as mandated by COVID protocols and the only cheers were the self-congratulatory ones emanating from the OSU bench as Cal committed turnovers on both of their final possessions.

“We do good in spurts and stuff like that, but I think if we can finish games strong and have success, we’ll be okay.” said Andre Kelly, who finished with 15 points but conceded that his defense was subpar.

The Bears (3-16, 8-18) assured a last place finish with Thursday’s loss and they will open the Pac-12 Tournament as the 11th seed on March 10 matched against the sixth-seed. Arizona will not participate in the conference tournament as part of their self-imposed penalties surrounding recruiting impropreties that resulted in the imprisonment of former assistant coach Book Richardson.

The Bears conclude their home schedule on Saturday night when Oregon visits. The Ducks defeated Stanford 71-68 at Maples Pavilion.

Ice Cold Cal comes up empty in 62-51 loss at Washington

By Morris Phillips

If awful shooting at Washington State didn’t get the job done, even worse marksmanship at Washington wasn’t going to cut it either.

Call it Cal’s easily forgotten weekend in the Northwest, one that almost assures that the Bears will finish the Pac-12 regular season in last place.

The Bears fell 62-51 to UW Saturday night, shooting a season-worst 27 percent from the floor, two nights after they shot 36 percent in a 31-point loss at Washington State. After fighting back to trail just 45-42 with 9:07 remaining, the Bears failed to make a basket over the game’s final eight minutes.

“When we got back initially, we didn’t have the poise to seize the moment,” coach Mark Fox said. “You can’t miss 10 or 11 free throws, the shots on the floor, and win on the road.”

Quade Green led the Huskies with 17 points, and Jamal Bey added 15 as the Huskies celebrated senior night with a pre-game ceremony and by welcoming fans into Hec Edmondson Pavilion for the first time this season. Governor Jay Inslee’s “Healthy Washington” edict just announced on Friday allowed 200 family members and friends of the UW program to provide a vocal presence at one of nation’s oldest on-campus arenas.

The Huskies (5-17, 4-13) had dropped four, consecutive home games. They also lost to Cal in Berkeley, 84-78 on February 9.

“Our defense was better tonight against them,” Washington coach Mike Hopkins said. “I thought there was some really good post defense. We did a good job on their 3-point shooters, knowing where they were, taking away their space.”

What Hopkins’ described in positive terms for his Huskies, was characterized more negatively by Fox. While the Bears’ coach liked his team’s movement on offense and play execution, the shots didn’t fall. Shaking up the starting lineup seemed to motivate Grant Anticevich and Andre Kelly, who came off the bench. But the play execution and motivational tactics couldn’t keep Cal in the game.

“I thought Andre really responded well, gave us a double-double,” Fox said. “I thought he answered the bell. I thought Grant was more active tonight.”

Matt Bradley led Cal again with 13 points, but he missed 13 of his 16 shots. Anticevich missed 11 of 15, Ryan Betley and Makale Foreman both missed four of five.

Joel Brown was a late scratch for Cal due to swelling in his Achilles.

The Bears were even at 10, but then they trailed 24-14. They would go on to trail for the game’s final 29 minutes, and by as much as 14 (42-28).

The ensuing 14-3 run for Cal was as good as it would get… all weekend.

The Bears (8-17, 3-15) return to Haas on Thursday to face Oregon State. They’ll see Oregon on Saturday. Both games start at 7pm.

Paloose Pounding: Cal blown out by WSU, 82-51, stays in last place in the Pac-12

By Morris Phillips

The uncertainty of which players would be available for Cal’s visit to Washington State was quickly replaced by the certainty of the outcome, an 82-51 runaway victory for the host Cougars.

Noah Williams led WSU with 32 points in the absence of Isaac Bonton, the Cougars leading scorer who was a gametime decision but sat out his second consecutive game with an ankle injury. Williams, the team’s second leading scorer, added nine rebounds and seven assists in just 31 minutes of floor time.

Cal trailed 21-10 with 9:38 remaining before halftime and never recovered. The Bears shot 36 percent from the field, and trailed 48-26 at halftime. The 31-point loss marked their biggest margin of defeat this season, one game after they registered their biggest win, an upset at home of NCAA Tournament hopeful Colorado.

Matt Bradley–in an unexpected lineup change–came off the bench and led Cal in scoring with 16 points. Ryan Betley replaced Bradley in the starting lineup but scored just six points in 28 minutes, missing five of his seven 3-point attempts. Andre Kelly had 10 points, five rebounds.

The Bears afforded WSU way to many scoring opportunities by being outrebounded 39-26, and committing 11 turnovers to the Cougars seven.

Not that Washington State (13-10, 6-10) needed any additional help from Cal. WSU shot 52 percent for the game, making 12 threes in the process as Cal’s defense, especially on the perimeter, was severely lacking.

WSU coach Kyle Smith spoke in the leadup to the game about Cal’s recent competitiveness, as well as a rough stretch for his Cougars, which has them playing five games in nine days. But in the end, none of Smith’s fears were realized.

Cal (3-14, 8-16) continues its northwest road swing on Saturday in Seattle against Washington, which lost to Cal earlier this season in Berkeley, and were beaten soundly by Stanford on Thursday night.

Cal breaks losing streak with 71-62 win, and hands Colorado a damaging blow to its NCAA aspirations

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA — A month ago, Colorado handed Cal its worst loss. On Saturday night, the Bears returned the favor.

Matt Bradley scored a career-best 29 points to lead Cal past Colorado, 71-62, snapping their seven-game losing streak in the process. Makale Foreman converted a pair of free throws with 16:58 remaining and the Bears never trailed again, a stunning reversal after the Bears lost by 29 points at Boulder on January 14.

“We played as well as we have all year,” coach Mark Fox said.

Buffs coach Tad Boyle tried to impress upon his club beforehand the sneaky challenge Cal presents in that they’ve piled up the losses while becoming increasingly competitive which they were in losing to Utah 76-75 on Thursday.

Apparently, Boyle’s club didn’t get the message.

“Cal is a team that’s playing better,” Boyle said. “They’re a helluva lot better than their record, I can tell you that. With that being said, this is a game we should have won, but we weren’t good enough tonight.”

“We did a lot of standing around,” said McKinley Wright IV. “The coaches had the perfect scouting report and we just didn’t execute.”

Colorado allowed the Bears to impose their plodding tempo, a task that became a lot easier with Cal getting off to a rare, fast start. The Bears led 10-4, 14-13 and after a long drought, recovered to lead 36-33 at the break. It was freshman Jalen Celestine, making his second start in place of Ryan Betley, that came up big for Cal in that regard.

Celestine scored nine of the Bears’ first 22 points–on three 3-pointers–to energize Cal while also taking the challenge of guarding Wright, a candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year. While Celestine sizzled, Wright was held in check, finishing with 13 points (on 3 of 11 shooting) and two assists.

Bradley seamlessly followed Celestine’s lead with 15 before the break, and 14 after including a critical 3-pointer with 40 seconds that increased Cal’s lead to 65-60. The junior guard was 9 for 17 from the floor and 9 of 10 from the line in surpassing the 20-point mark for the fifth time in his last six games.

Colorado (16-5, 10-5) blew past Stanford on Thursday for their ninth win in 11 games, a run that has them in good standing with the NCAA Tournament selection committee. But should the Buffs falter in games against USC, UCLA or Oregon in their final stretch, earlier losses to Washington (167 in the Pomeroy ratings) and Cal (134) will receive greater scrutiny as bad losses.

“It gives us our fifth (Pac-12) loss and we’re back in the pack,” Boyle said. “Thought we had a chance to compete for a championship. We’ve just got to figure out how win our next one.”

Beating one of the conference’s best teams after nearly a month of losing typified the season for Cal (8-15, 3-13). Not particularly talented by Pac-12 standards, nor tall or deep, the Bears have confounded by staying engaged, when other teams might have splintered. Fox deserves credit for that along with his staff that hasn’t hesitated to shake things up. Celestine’s emergence is one of those moves. After not playing in seven games, and never seeing more than 18 minutes of action in any one game, the freshman played 33 minutes against Colorado.

“We felt like in the game today we could use him defensively against McKinley Wright because he has athleticism and size and he’s got great balance and so defensively I thought he was really good,” Fox explained.

The Bears travel to Washington next with their Pullman stop to face Washington State on Thursday. The battle not to finish last in conference play comes Saturday in Seattle against UW.

Buzzer Beat: Missed free throw leaves Cal short in 76-75 loss to Utah

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Six consecutive losses didn’t leave Cal resigned to a seventh.

Instead the Bears battled visiting Utah in a tense second half only to miss a potential game-winning three with a second remaining and a critical free throw after Andre Kelly was fouled grabbing an offensive rebound with 0.7 remaining.

Kelly missed the first–then while trying to miss the second intentionally–converted, preventing the home team from coming up with a miraculous tip-in for the win.

“We had a tip-in play ready to go,” coach Mark Fox said. “It’s just hard to intentionally miss.”

The Bears trailed by ten at the half only to tie the game at 50, then lead 57-55 with 8:48 remaining. The Utes responded with the game’s next six points and never trailed again. But with Cal trailing 75-68 and 37 seconds remaining, the Bears didn’t quit.

Grant Anticevich’s steal led to Matt Bradley hitting two free throws to bring Cal within 75-70 with 33 seconds to go. After Timmy Allen made one of two from the line for Utah, Kelly followed his own miss and scored with 17 seconds left.

Allen was fouled again, but missed both free throws and Bradley’s layup got Cal within 76-74 with six seconds. Bradley was the trigger man on the potential game-winner setup by the Utes’ botched inbounds pass, but it rattled out.

Fox appeared to display displeasure with the referees after Utah paraded to the line in the final four minutes, in which they didn’t attempt a single shot from the floor. The Utes made nine of the first ten from the line to build a seven-point lead, but missed three of the next four free throw attempts to open the door for Cal.

Quite frankly, we got beat at the free throw line,” Fox said. “And that’s a hard place to defend”

The Bears showed tremendous character in making game of it, but put themselves in a hole by allowing Utah to shoot 58 percent in the first half. Also Utes’ reserve guard Ian Martinez was hard to handle, scoring 16 points, including nine in the final six minutes.

“My mentality is to just go out there and be helpful to the team however they need me,” said Martinez.

Allen led Utah with 18 points, and never came out the game, playing all 40 minutes. The junior forward wasn’t flawless however with five turnovers and the three late misses from the line.

The Bears led 31-30 in the first half only to see the Utes score 12 of the final 13 points before the break.

Bradley had 20 points to lead Cal (7-15, 2-13). Anticevich added 18 and Kelly 17. The Bears’ 31-21 edge on the boards was negated by 14 turnovers and 23 fouls committed.

“I told the team it’s not the last 30 seconds you stay up at night thinking about. It’s the first 39 and a half minutes. There’s a couple of mistakes in there we need to clean up,” Fox said.

The Bears host Colorado on Saturday at 7pm.

Cal more competitive but too repetitive in 76-70 rematch loss to Stanford

By Morris Phillips

In order to make the most idiotic tip time in televised sports history make any kind of sense, the Cal Bears had to do one thing:

Stay competitive with Stanford for the first 15 minutes of Sunday night’s game, enough time for Tom Brady to accept his latest Super Bowl MVP trophy and then have insatiable sports fans (and gamblers) turn their attention to the Bay rivalry and–with Cal making a game of it–keep their attention.

Guess what? At roughly 7:45pm PST, the Bears were doing their part.

And then they weren’t.

Tied at 22 with 4:24 remaining before halftime–after Joel Brown’s high-difficulty flip in at the rim–Cal went to a dark place, not unlike Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. A 22-4 run spanning the halves put the visiting Bears in an insurmountable hole, with the result, a 76-70 loss that a got a prettier final score in the frantic, final two minutes.

In a repeat of Thursday’s loss at Haas Pavilion, the Bears were overmatched inside where Stanford scored 42 of their first 66 points in the paint on drives, dump-ins with a few dunks mixed in between. With Cal’s defense providing little resistance, a late run and a spirited effort was rendered as a footnote.

“Our defense is not at the level it needs to be to win, especially on the road,” coach Mark Fox said.

“We just can get enough stops consecutively to get us over the hump.”

Stanford made 60 percent of their shots over the first 30 minutes of the game before finishing at 58 percent. In what is now a six-game losing streak for the Bears–the longest skid under Fox–their opponent made at least half their shots from the floor for the fourth consecutive game.

Worse was Cal’s rudder less offense which shot 37 percent after a 36 percent mark on Thursday. The Bears again settled more often than not, with no free throws attempts in the first half and 16 misses from 3-point range.

An 11-4 edge in offensive rebounds for Cal seemed impressive, but ultimately it just added to their missed shot total.

“I thought we played hard,” Fox said. “It’s the intelligence we have to attach to that effort.”

That effort showed in the final two minutes when Cal cut a 15-point deficit to six, but even that push had to do with Stanford missing just enough free throws to irritate bettors who had Stanford minus 10.

Matt Bradley led Cal with 15 points. Jarred Hyder had 13 (in his best scoring output as a Bear), Ryan Betley and Brown added 12 each.

Oscar da Silva, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, led Stanford with 19 points.

Cal hosts Utah–the last team they beat three weeks ago in Salt Lake City–on Thursday afternoon.

Stanford makes themselves at home in Berkeley, stops Cal, 70-55

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.