Cal men’s basketball prepare for rival Stanford

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The last time the Cal men’s basketball team faced Stanford, sophomore forward Ivan Rabb — a projected first-round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft — recorded his highest-scoring night in a conference game this season with 25 points while also anchoring the Pac-12’s top scoring defense. The Bears won that game by 11 points, in front of their home crowd.

On Friday, Cal heads to Stanford, looking for an important road victory to complete the season sweep of the Cardinal. But this time around, the Bears may not be able to rely on Rabb’s offensive skill set to give them a scoring boost.

In the four games since his dominant performance against Stanford, Rabb has posted 10.3 points on 43.2 percent shooting from the field — pedestrian averages by his standards.

While Stanford is tied for ninth in the Pac-12 with a 4-9 record in conference play, the Cardinal are a more challenging matchup than their record suggests. Stanford was without five-star forward Reid Travis, who leads the team with per-game averages of 17.2 points and 8.6 rebounds, for four games early in its conference schedule.

Travis made his return from injury in his last outing against Cal and even staged a late rally to keep his team from being blown out. Since then, Travis has had time to acclimate himself and is on a tear, averaging 23 points on 62.5 percent shooting in the last three games. In that stretch, the Cardinal won a home game against Utah and challenged No. 9 Arizona on the road, falling short by seven points.

Travis’ mobility also makes him a difficult matchup for the larger, less nimble big men on the Bears’ team — centers Kingsley Okoroh and Kameron Rooks — so Rabb’s ability to contain Travis defensively could prove to be more vital to the team’s success than his scoring.

“They’re a different team when Reid Travis is on the floor,” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin. “When you go that many games without a guy of that magnitude, it’s hard to get in a true flow. Even though they did a great job fighting and competing as a team, they’re a different team when he’s on the floor.”

Cal will need point guard Charlie Moore, who was held out of the second half in the Bears’ last game against Arizona after aggravating his hip, to help keep the offense from becoming stagnant. Without Moore for much of the game, the Bears scored just 57 points against Arizona — their lowest total since their matchup against the No. 1 scoring defense in the country in Virginia. Moore is expected to play Friday, giving the Bears another slasher with the ability to suck defenders in and create open looks for teammates and a threat to shoot from the perimeter.

With only five games left in the conference schedule, every game has an impact on Cal’s chances at a spot in the NCAA tournament. ESPN projections currently have the Bears as a 10 seed, but a loss to an unheralded Stanford team puts them at risk of being on the bubble.

Kapil Kashyap covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]