In a duel between two five-star forwards, Ivan Rabb carried the Bears to victory. Rabb outshined Stanford’s leading scorer and rebounder Reid Travis, with a dominant 25 point, 13 rebound performance to lead Cal to a 66-55 victory.
But to truly appreciate Rabb’s brilliance requires a closer look at the box score. Rabb’s 25 points came on just nine field goal attempts, he shot 2/2 from beyond the arc, and he recorded two blocks and a steal — none of which can adequately capture Rabb’s defensive contribution. It was Rabb’s dominance on both ends of the floor that helped the Bears combat a sluggish start.
Both the Bears and the Cardinal — the 9th and 11th ranked offenses in the conference — struggled to score in the first half. Freshman guard Charlie Moore tallied the first points of the game for Cal on a layup at the 17:50 mark, but the Bears found themselves trailing Stanford for most of the first half.
Cal looked to get Rabb into an offensive rhythm by dumping him the ball a few feet from the crowded paint, but the Cardinal afforded him no space. Rabb was instantly met with double-teams every time he caught the ball, to which he adeptly responded by passing to the open man. Although the Bears showed strong ball movement in the first half, their offense wilted because they were unable to convert uncontested jump shots.
“In the first half, shots weren’t going in,” said senior guard Jabari Bird. “But, they looked good, they felt good.”
As soon as Rabb was substituted off the floor, Cal’s defense took a substantial hit. The lineup of Moore and Don Coleman — two undersized guards — paired with seven-footers Kingsley Okoroh and Kameron Rooks struggled to defend Stanford’s perimeter threats and allowed the Cardinal to gain a 9-3 lead. While Okoroh provided valuable rim protection, he lacked the mobility to keep up with forward Travis, the Cardinal’s leading scorer.
Once Bears head coach Cuonzo Martin reinserted the starting lineup, Moore and Rabb were able to ignite the offense. Moore notched an assist with a pass to Rabb for an easy dunk and nailed a mid-range jumper off the dribble on the next possession to pull the Bears within two points, 13-11. About a minute later, Rabb tied up the game by finishing inside off of an offensive rebound.
“Charlie did a great job of breaking the defense down,” Martin said. “I think he did a tremendous job today of getting other guys involved.”
Cal’s offense excelled late in the first half as a result of transition scoring opportunities created by defensive stops. Both Rabb and Bird possess elite athleticism, which they were able to use on drives to the rim in transition. A fastbreak dunk by Bird, assisted by Mullins after a steal by Sam Singer, put the Bears up 25-20. Stanford closed the first half on a 5-0 run to tie up the game 25-25 heading into the second half.
While the Bears had a shaky start to the game, they looked like a competent offensive team in the second half. With an 8-0 run that included a three-pointer each from Mullins and Rabb, Cal surged ahead of Stanford as soon as the second period started.
After a relatively quiet first half, Travis asserted himself on offense and kept the Cardinal’s hopes alive. Travis scored five consecutive baskets for Stanford to chip away at the Bears’ lead, but two triples from Bird kept the Cardinal at bay. Cal centers Rooks and Okoroh shared Travis as a defensive assignment and both of them struggled to deal with Travis’ combination of strength and finishing ability.
With just under five minutes remaining, Travis drew a foul on a post-up and converted both free-throws to bring Stanford within two possessions, 53-47. But despite Travis’ second half heroics, Rabb cemented his stake as the best player on the floor by imposing his will on both ends of the floor. Rabb converted a layup, followed it up with a block on Travis, and drained two free-throws on the next offensive trip to give the Bears a double-digit cushion with 3:37 remaining that lasted them the remainder of the game.
As Cal comes closer to the postseason, it’ll need Rabb’s continued two-way excellence to be discussed as a contender in the Pac-12.
Kapil Kashyap covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]