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Bears fall apart when it matters most

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Staff

MARCH 04, 2012

STANFORD, Calif. — Harper Kamp choked back tears, trying in vain to navigate the fall. Sitting in the bowels of Maples Pavilion, his eyes reddened.

He should have been celebrating, he and the rest of the Cal roster clinching its second Pac-12 title in three years. Instead, they sat with the silence of a 75-70 loss, their rival Cardinal the gleeful victors.

“Not a single one of us was ready to play,” the fifth-year senior said.

He couldn’t understand. They had been so close. What happened to the team that rode a six-game winning streak? The team pundits had long picked as the conference’s only safe at-large NCAA bid?

The Bears, in line for the Pac-12 title nearly all season, lost consecutive games for the first time since last February. With the weight of the entire year compacted into a single game, they crumbled.

“We looked nervous,” said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery. “We played nervous. We acted nervous.”

Stanford opened with physical defense, bumping the Bears. And the Bears, in Kamp’s words, “played soft.”

This was the sort of effort that could be understandable on a tail end of a tough road trip. Cal has been painfully thin all season, a fact underscored again by Stanford’s 27-4 scoring advantage off the bench.

Still, the excuse doesn’t fly now, not after a full week of rest leading up to a rivalry game. The Bears did not have heavy travel to deal with, contending only with a 40-minute drive across the waters. They had the benefit of a healthy fan turnout, a group that nearly drowned out “Go Stanford” cheers with “Go Bears.”

Cal’s mistakes were head-numbing — missed layups, missed free throws, missed box outs.

The game’s most pivotal play was also its most revealing. With just over a minute left in the game, there was an inexplicable no-call as Aaron Bright knocked Cal guard Jorge Gutierrez to the ground with a screen. Free of a defender, Bright stormed to the basket, drawing a foul on Kamp and forcing him out of the game.

The score was 72-70. Bright drained the first attempt, but clanged the second — still a one-possession game. But Cal couldn’t secure the rebound. Bright grabbed the ball, and Cal sent him to the line again.

Again, Bright made the first and missed the second. Again, the Bears let the ball slip away.

“Had we made those plays, the pressure shifts a little bit,” Montgomery said. “We didn’t make those plays.”

Fans may point toward referee Michael Greenstein, who was also present at the perceived officiating debacles against Arizona and Oregon at Haas Pavilion. But the officiating, bad as it was, went both ways. Stanford didn’t take a free throw in the second half until 12:20. Cal’s 24-16 advantage at the charity stripe helped keep the margin manageable when the Cardinal were making big runs.

In some ways, this loss exposed Cal’s offense. The Bears — who usually play disciplined, consistent basketball — simply do not have enough scoring options or size. Allen Crabbe, the team’s top scorer, can be shut down with contact; when he is relegated to spot-up 3-pointers, the team is left with Gutierrez’s spotty jump shot as its No. 1 option.

Cal now heads into the Pac-12 Tournament as the No. 2 seed, March Madness still almost guaranteed if it wins another game. The team will likely see Stanford again on Thursday, assuming the Cardinal beat Arizona State in Wednesday’s first round.

“It’s great,” said Stanford center Andrew Zimmerman. “We’re playing with nothing to lose.”

It’s the Bears who might lose it all.

Contact Jack Wang at 

LAST UPDATED

MARCH 05, 2012


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