STANFORD, Calif. — There was really never any indication the Cal men’s basketball team would win on Sunday afternoon.
So, when with less than a minute remaining, Stanford guard Aaron Bright grabbed consecutive offensive rebounds off missed free throws to clinch a 75-70 over the Bears, Cal’s fate had already seemed sealed at Maples Pavilion.
When the Bears (23-8, 13-5 in the Pac-12) lost at Colorado last Sunday, their Pac-12 title chances looked to be all but over. But the squad was given new life after UCLA upset first-place Washington on Saturday.
But like the ball during that daunting possession, the Pac-12 title slipped right through the Bears’ fingers.
“Not a single one of us was ready to play,” said a teary-eyed Harper Kamp after the game. “I don’t know what kind of motivation you need for a game like that … I don’t know why we’re not ourselves anymore, but we’ve got to find a way.”
Cal, who had been behind all but two minutes of the contest, had cut Stanford’s lead to just two points before Kamp fouled Bright with 42 seconds remaining. In the next 13 seconds of game time, Bright would make 3-of-6 free throws to close out the regular season with a season split with the Bears, leaving Cal with back-to-back road losses to think about before this week’s Pac-12 tournament.
“We looked nervous. We played nervous. We acted nervous.” said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery. “We’ve not played as well, as confidently, lately, as we did early on.”
To say Cal came out flat would be a great understatement.
With eight minutes remaining in the first half, Cal had only made three field goals and had a sub-.200 field goal percentage. A few minutes later, Stanford’s lead ballooned to 15. Jorge Gutierrez was on the bench with three fouls, the third an unsportsmanlike conduct technical foul. Allen Crabbe was shooting jumper after jumper — but missing most of them.
In the final 5:15 of the first half, Cal went on a 15-5 run to cut the margin down to a manageable five points. The Bears had more turnovers (eight) than assists (seven) in the period, while allowing Stanford (20-10, 10-8) to connect on 5-of-9 threes and nearly 50 percent of all field goals.
Freshman guard Chasson Randle especially torched Cal, scoring 12 of his team-high 17 points in the first half via a collection of floaters in the paint and swishes from behind the arc.
Even though Stanford committed 24 fouls in the game, its physicality appeared to negate the Bears’ 24 trips to the charity stripe.
“Our team is just not focused right now,” Kamp said. “I’m not sure why we’re lacking so much focus, but we are. Letting them push us around, letting it get to us mentally for some reason — it’s something we can’t let happen.”
The teams traded baskets for much of the second half, as the Cardinal’s lead hovered around 10. David Kravish and Kamp scored consecutive baskets to cut the margin to six with 2:32 remaining. The Bears made it a one-possession game moments later when Justin Cobbs fed Kravish on a fastbreak alley-oop. Crabbe sunk a free throw soon after, but from that point on, Cal couldn’t leave Stanford’s side of the court until the waning seconds.
The Bears finish the Pac-12 season in second place and will face the winner of Stanford and Arizona State on Thursday in the Pac-12 tournament in Los Angeles.