Sahara, Gobi, Kalahari — take your pick. Cal’s 69-59 win over Stanford on Sunday night was desert arid.
Bad hyperbole? The Bears went over four minutes without a field goal in the first half. They took nearly five minutes to score one in the second.
Not that the fans minded, the sellout crowd of 11,877 on their feet when Cal took even a three-point lead. Haas Pavilion rocked back and forth like it hasn’t in years, the Bay Area rivalry renewed so much that famed announcers Gus Johnson and Steve Kerr were on hand.
“It was great,” said senior guard Jorge Gutierrez. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the gym that packed. I’ve been here three and a half years and I haven’t seen the gym that packed.”
The fans didn’t care because fourth-year coach Mike Montgomery proved again he can squeeze wins out of any roster, his latest group grinding out its ugliest victory this season.
But watching the Bears go 2-for-11 from 3-point range felt gravy when they kept Stanford at 2-of-15. Ditto for watching them lose the ball unpressured and struggle against the Cardinal’s nondescript big men.
There’s no better way of injecting excitement in a game plagued by slow, dull play than handing Stanford (15-6, 5-4 in the Pac-12) its third straight loss. And there’s no greater oasis for the home crowd than the Bears (17-5, 7-2) earning their fourth straight home victory over the Cardinal, something that hasn’t occurred in 40 years.
The milestone coincides with both the tenures of both Montgomery and Gutierrez — the first Bear ever to notch the four-year home sweep.
Stanford bothered Cal from tip-off with an unusual starting lineup, inserting forward Josh Huestis and guard Jarrett Mann into the starting five. The more defensive-tuned group limited Cal to 4-of-16 shooting 10 minutes into the game.
Little-used big man Stefan Nastic scored a career-high 11 points and took 10 free throws, the highest total for a Stanford player against Cal since 2008. He made only three points in the second half, after the Bears shifted Gutierrez to help defense.
After unleashing a 13-4 run in the first half, Cal put the game out of reach with an 8-1 streak in the second.
The Bears also burned the Cardinal in hustle stats: 41 rebounds to 31; 10 second-chance points to five; 10 fast-break points to zero.
“You have to give them credit,” said Cardinal forward Josh Owens. “They fought the whole game, we were right there with them until about the 14-minute mark … You’ve just got to give them credit because they never gave up.”
Halfway through Pac-12 play, the Bears are still tied at the top. During a terrible year for the conference, a second regular season title in three years is within reach. So too is an NCAA tourney bid, not too shabby considering that the maligned Pac-12 may only send two representatives.
“Everybody’s trying to separate if they can,” Montgomery said. “Everybody’s trying to get a little separation and it’s not happening very much … We have to continue to win at home.”
He added that Cal must still travel to Stanford, one of three straight road games at the back end of the schedule. All of the Bears’ losses have come on the road.
“It just puts a little more on our shoulders,” Crabbe said. “We just need to stay focused so we can stay at the top.”