As definitively the worst Power Six program over the last two seasons, Cal men’s basketball hasn’t had an easy time filling up Haas Pavilion. This Sunday, even with Stanford coming to town, the task of attracting a large, roaring crowd becomes all the more improbable.
In their first taste of rivalry weekend this season, the Bears and Cardinal will be competing against one another not only for points, but also for eyeballs. Cal and Stanford will tip off at 1 p.m., just a few hours before Super Bowl 53 kicks off at 3:30 p.m.
Aside from the obvious reasons that would hinder overall attendance, former Bear Jared Goff will be starting for the Los Angeles Rams, incentivizing Cal fans to stay glued to their televisions rather making the trek to Haas.
“I feel like they’re going to come out and support us,” said freshman Matt Bradley after Cal’s loss to Utah. “Probably keep their iPhones on and watch Super Bowl as well.”
However many people decide to show up will be the last of the Bears’ concerns. The aforementioned nine-game losing streak is currently the longest since head coach Wyking Jones took over the program.
Stanford has been no stranger to besting Cal during Jones’ tenure, having beaten its rival in two of their three matchups, including an 18-point romping in Las Vegas at the Pac-12 Tournament. But with the opportunity to hand the Bears a 10th straight loss, which would tie the program record for most consecutive losses, one that was set in the 1961-62 season, the Cardinal will have an added incentive to come out with some juice.
With all that’s riding on this game simply from a pride and rivalry standpoint, Cal will come into this game having not been together for a significant chunk of the week.
After his team’s loss to Utah, Jones cited that he and his staff would recruit Monday and Tuesday — players were to participate in individual workouts on these days — give the team Wednesday off, then reconvene Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
“I think we just need a break. … We’re all competitors — we all have pride,” Jones said. “This doesn’t feel good. Hit the reset button, take a break, come back together and figure it out.”
As the team prepares for Sunday, it will have to best figure out how to manage Stanford’s length, which Jones noted was a strength.
“They’re long,” Jones said. “They have tremendous length. They’re big at every position. They play well together and they’re a good team.”
Stanford head coach Jerod Haase could possibly roll out a starting lineup in which every player is taller than someone on Cal barring a tactical counter by Jones.
The past two games, Haase has started, from one to five, Daejon Davis (6’3”), Bryce Wills (6’6”), Kezie Okpala (6’9”), Oscar da Silva (6’9”) and Josh Sharma (7’0”). Jones has rolled out several different lineups, but his most popular and most recent is Paris Austin (6’0”), Darius McNeill (6’3”), Matt Bradley (6’4”), Justice Sueing (6’7”) and Andre Kelly (6’8”).
There are several combinations of big lineups with which Jones could counter, namely one that features a frontcourt of Sueing, Kelly and Connor Vanover (7’3”) and has McNeill or Bradley come off the bench. Jones will also call on Juhwan Harris-Dyson (6’5”), Grant Anticevich (6’8”) and, if healthy, Jacobi Gordon (6’7”).
In regard to Vanover, Anticevich and Gordon, however, all three have seemingly fallen out of Jones’ rotation. Vanover, specifically, is a curious case; over the last four games, Vanover has played a combined 22 minutes.
Regardless of who Jones throws out on the court, his units will have to figure out how to stop Okpala. Currently projected to be drafted in the lottery, Okpala is a walking mismatch for Cal. Not only does he have the strength, athleticism and craftiness to get to the rim, but he also has a lethal 3-point shot.
Okpala hasn’t played well against Cal during his career, averaging only 8 points on 26.3 percent shooting, but with this likely being his last game at Haas, perhaps the forward has a couple tricks up his sleeve just for his rival.