The Bears are running out of both time and excuses.
With half of the Pac-12 season officially in the books, the Cal men’s basketball team has two impressive wins to its name but even more puzzling, inexplicable losses. The possible reasons for those defeats have been tossed around endlessly by fans and media alike, ranging from the injury of senior point guard Tyrone Wallace to early season jitters. But the two consecutive losses to Oregon State and Stanford in January are especially curious and likely still sting for the Bears.
“We got off to a poor start early. I thought we were very passive,” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin after facing the Cardinal. “Stanford plays tough at home; it was a hard fought game.”
Cal will have a chance to redeem at least one of its head-scratching losses Saturday when the Bears welcome Stanford to Haas Pavilion, where Cal is a pristine 13-0 this season.
Even with the apparent benefits of home-court advantage, Cal’s splits this season are baffling, and likely a source of serious concern for fans. The Bears are as mediocre on the road as they are dominant in Berkeley, tallying a 1-8 record away from home. Saturday’s rematch arrives on the heels of another dismal road series, in which Martin’s squad fell to both Utah and Colorado, failing to top the 70-point mark in each.
The Bears must produce a better performance against the Cardinal, who are ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in field goal defense. Cal’s offense was middling in its last meeting with Stanford for most of the game, but saw four Bears finish with double-digit points. Cal’s real struggle that night came on the other side of the ball, where the defense allowed Stanford to shoot 50 percent from the field in the first half and nearly 50 percent from beyond the arc in the game — an anomaly for a team ranked first in the conference in scoring defense.
“We weren’t playing to our ability,” said junior guard Jabari Bird. “We know what we can do when we play defense for 40 minutes. They were scoring too easily.”
Cal has accrued a 2-2 record since facing Stanford, highlighted by a 74-73 win over then-No. 12 Arizona accompanied by fans rushing the court and an ESPN crew. The Cardinal, on the other hand, are 1-3 in that span, falling in each of those losses by at least 14 points en route to being ranked last in the conference in scoring offense. Stanford is also dead last in three-point field goal percentage, shooting a measly 31.7 percent.
The Bears, buoyed by the home crowd, will look to take advantage of their floundering rivals to notch a much-needed victory to start the second half of conference play.
“When we get home, it helps,” Martin said. “The guys collectively on the floor need to have leadership among them to make decisions, to communicate with other guys and to help each other. That’s the key; we have to continue to grow in that area.”