With 17 ticks remaining on the game clock Saturday night, Cal guard Tyrone Wallace soared to snatch a defensive rebound, giving the Bears the opportunity to break the 58-58 stalemate against the No. 1 team in the nation. On the ensuing play, a high-pick set by Richard Solomon freed up Justin Cobbs for a split second, and the point guard’s fadeaway hoist caught nothing but net. Fans swarmed the court, Pappy’s was euphoric, and just like that, Arizona was no longer perfect.
Just a few days prior on Wednesday night at Maples Pavilion, Stanford found itself in a similar scenario. Facing the same Arizona squad, the Cardinal inbounded the ball with five seconds left and a chance to draw even. Instead, Chasson Randle’s desperation heave clanged off the back iron and Stanford’s dejected fan base drifted into the night.
At 6 p.m. on Wednesday, the Bears (15-7, 6-3 Pac-12) and the Cardinal (14-7, 5-4) will face off at Haas Pavilion after each went 1-1 against the Arizona schools. Despite the loss to Arizona, Stanford rebounded with a six-point win over Arizona State, the same team that knocked off the Bears in overtime last week.
The Cardinal and Bears have already met once this season, on Jan. 2 in Palo Alto, in both teams’ first Pac-12 contest of the season. Cal won 69-62, but since then both teams have been plagued with inconsistency.
While Cal started conference play with an unblemished 5-0 record, it quickly lost three straight games before Saturday’s victory. Meanwhile, Stanford is hovering just one game above .500 and sits in the middle of the conference, tied for fourth with four other teams.
For the Bears, finding a way to replicate the defensive effort that stymied Arizona’s offense and held it to 32 percent shooting will go a long way in defeating their archrival for the second time this season. Defense was the key culprit in Cal’s recent three-game losing streak, but Saturday’s game demonstrated the Bears’ defensive potential.
“I wish it would seem logical that there would be some of that carry over,”said Cal coach Mike Montgomery. “I just harped on them to prepare themselves. The natural thing that kids do is they tend to make a value judgment about people, whether it’s right or wrong. For me, my biggest fear is that anybody can beat you, and if you don’t prepare that’s what’s going to happen.”
Four of Stanford’s starters score double figures on a game-by-game basis, led by Randle. As a whole, the Cardinal average 76 points per game on 47 percent shooting. But the last time the two teams met, Stanford was held to just 62 points and 41 percent shooting — its second-lowest scoring total of the Pac-12 season.
Interestingly enough, Cal scored its lowest point total of the season against Arizona, and it came away with its most important win of the season. The result highlights how Cal can transform its recent win into a winning streak. The Bears’ effectiveness on defense should determine the outcome of the game on Wednesday.
“You see a lot of teams struggling — teams are just beating up on each other,” Cobbs said. “This is a great conference. We understand how important this win (against Arizona) is with them being undefeated, but at the end of the day it’s just another win for us and we’re just gonna keep moving forward and get ready for Wednesday.”