It was bound to happen. The Cal men’s basketball team could not keep winning forever.
As Stanford’s lead kept building and building in a raucous Haas Pavilion, the Bears’ Pac-12 title hopes softly faded away Wednesday night.
Losing to the Cardinal is bad enough for Cal. Losing 83-70 in the regular-season finale to snap a seven-game win streak is much worse.
The Bears (20-10, 12-6 in the Pac-12) will likely enter next week’s Pac-12 Tournament as the No. 3 seed.
“I guess we just didn’t come prepared to play the way we should have played,” said Allen Crabbe.
Seemingly a team of destiny during its winning streak, Cal had already seen stars align before the game was over. UCLA had lost to Washington State earlier in the evening, giving the Bears a decent chance at a conference championship if they were to beat Stanford.
But, of course, there is a reason they play the games.
After a string of grind-it-out contests, establishing Cal as perhaps the conference’s preeminent defense, Wednesday’s rivalry matchup was an offensive slugfest. The Bears’ four-game stretch of opponents shooting under 35 percent was in serious jeopardy only minutes into the game.
Stanford (18-13, 9-9) was on fire from the perimeter in the first half, shooting 5-for-11 from 3-point range. Despite not being an explosive offensive team, Cal managed to keep up with jumpers from guards Crabbe and Justin Cobbs and fastbreak buckets. The Bears shot 56 percent from the field in the half and went into the break down just 34-31.
In the second half, all hell broke loose for Cal.
Stanford went on an 18-4 run early in the period to build up a 19-point lead as the Bears did not score a field goal for more than four minutes.
The Cardinal’s speed and athleticism caused Cal just as many problems as their torrid shooting (49 percent overall, 52.9 percent from deep). Stanford was the aggressor, getting to the free throw line on offense and grabbing loose balls on defense.
“When they shoot the ball, they’re good,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery. “Obviously, from our perspective, we feel like we made a lot of defensive mistakes.”
Cal seemingly reverted back to its unbalanced play from the first half of the season, which included a 69-59 loss at Stanford back on Jan. 19. On Wednesday, Crabbe and Cobbs shouldered the scoring burden, each chipping in 24 points. Cobbs had six assists but eight of the Bears’ 14 turnovers.
“I take part of the blame,” Cobbs said. “I’m frustrated it happened.”
With Cal down 72-53 at the 5:04 mark, frustration boiled over. Cardinal forward Dwight Powell apparently knocked Crabbe to the ground after play had stopped, and Crabbe responded by hitting Powell in the back.
The benches cleared, and the ensuing melee resulted in three technical fouls for each team and the ejections of Richard Solomon and Stanford’s Gabriel Harris, both for leaving the bench. In addition, Cal assistant coach Gregg Gottlieb and all but one of the Stanford assistants were ejected.
“Emotions got away,” Crabbe said. “That’s the game of basketball — stuff happens. We just got to move on from it. It’s over with.”
The Bears returned to the court fired up but out of time. Their full-court press and clutch shooting whittled down the lead, but it was too little too late.
Jonathan Kuperberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @JonathanKupe