After splitting a pair of games on a road stint in Oregon, the Cal men’s basketball team will return home to compete against Stanford (11-9, 3-5 Pac-12) in a nationally-televised matchup this weekend. The Bears, whose program-record, 27-game home win streak was shattered by consecutive losses to No.12 Virginia and No.18 Arizona, will look to extend their current home win streak to four games.
Cal is nearing the halfway point of its Pac-12 schedule and so far, they’ve performed as expected. The Bears hold a 5-3 conference record, with all three losses coming to objectively superior teams: Arizona, No.8 UCLA and No.10 Oregon. They’ve taken care of lesser Pac-12 teams, and even pulled out a thrilling last-second victory over USC, which recently dropped out of the top-25.
Sophomore forward Ivan Rabb, a surefire first round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft if he declares for it, should be credited for the Bears’ success. Rabb has led the team in scoring in three of its last four outings, showcasing his arsenal of post moves as well as his ability to make the right play out of a double team. His jumper, though still a work in progress, has shown definite progress. On the season, Rabb is 4/9 from three-point range, so the Cardinal will have to plan against his multifaceted offensive game.
Defensively, Cal has established itself as one of the premier teams in the nation, with Rabb as its anchor. Stanford, which holds the 11th ranked scoring offense in the conference, will likely struggle to score against the Bears, with athletic wings Jabari Bird and Roger Moute a Bidias manning the perimeter and Rabb providing elite rim protection.
Although Cal is favored against the Cardinal, who are a paltry 1-5 on the road this season, Stanford shouldn’t be taken lightly. The Cardinal recently ripped off a three-game win streak before falling to Oregon — one of the hottest teams in the country — and have been without Reid Travis, their leading scorer and rebounder, for the past two games. Travis is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.
Stanford ranks third in the Pac-12 in steals and excels in transition, especially with Travis, a former five-star recruit and an elite athlete at the forward position, on the floor. The Bears stand 10th in the conference in turnover margin, so it’s imperative that they make smart passes and cut down on easy giveaways to thrive against the Cardinal.
As a team on the cusp of entering the ranks of the top-25, Cal will need to pull out another convincing victory against a middle-of-the-pack team in Stanford to bolster its resume. The Bears will also look for Jabari Bird, their second most reliable scoring option, to maintain his strong three-point shooting. Bird sank 8 of his last 18 attempts from long-range, and if he can maintain that efficiency and draw out defenders to the three-point line, he’ll help create space inside for Rabb.
If the Cardinal are without Travis on Sunday, the Bears can expect an easy victory as a result of Stanford’s offensive deficiencies. But if Travis is good to go, he’ll be a good test for the Bears’ defense.
Kapil Kashyap covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]