Cal men’s basketball falls to Stanford on road

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Coming off a strong 66-55 showing against the rival Cardinal at home just a few weeks ago, the Bears rode into Palo Alto, California, ready to complete the season sweep. But on this night, the Cardinal and forward Reid Travis decided otherwise, thoroughly dominating Cal in a 73-68 victory.

In the first half, it seemed the Ivan Rabb of old was once again nowhere to be found. After averaging only 10.3 points per game on 43.2 percent shooting over his past four contests, the soon-to-be NBA Draft pick again came out cold in Maples Pavilion. In the first half, Rabb mustered only four points on three shots, with an assist and two rebounds and fouls.

The sophomore was joined in that final statistical category by freshman point guard Charlie Moore, center Kingsley Okoroh and center Kam Rooks — who all saw fewer minutes than they’re accustomed to in the opening period because of that two-early-fouls trouble. Okoroh and Moore each played 11 minutes, while Rooks and Rabb were in for only nine. They scored a collective 14 points in those collective 40 minutes of action.

The Bears also had serious trouble stopping the Cardinal offense early on, which has struggled all season and scored the ninth-most points in the conference. Yet, perhaps the biggest reason for this lowly ranking and the main reason Stanford’s attack did so well in the first half is Travis. The 245-pound junior had averaged 23 points per game on 62.5 percent shooting over his past three games since returning from injury and went for 12 points and five rebounds in the first half. He finished with 19 and nine, respectively.

Frankly, Cal was lucky to go into the break down only 38-34. But that luck was supplanted by the play of senior Jabari Bird, who went 4-7 from the field and 3-3 from three in the first half to keep Cal at least competitive. But for a team with NCAA Tournament aspirations, the second half would have to be much better.

But Travis continued to work the Cal bigs in the second. Inside drives forced third fouls on both Okoroh and Rooks less than three minutes into the period, yet Bird continued to keep his team in the game. Two more threes from the senior got his team down only one, 42-41, and Rabb finally got a beautiful and-one to fall and put his team up two.

But the Cardinal onslaught was unperturbed. A quick three and an uncontested dunk from Travis put Stanford back up, 47-44. The Bears offense was nonexistent, plagued with neither player nor ball movement, and too often the team ended up with the ball far from the hoop with less than 10 seconds on the shot clock. It was a recipe for bad shots and bad transition defense.

Dorian Pickens — who had zero points in the first meeting in Berkeley but finished with 23 points on nine shots — also began picking the Bears apart, and the Cardinal went on a 13-0 run that lasted well over five minutes. And by the time Rabb finally got a contested jumper to fall, his team was down 55-46. A three from Mullins cut the lead, but Rooks drew his fifth and final foul with 10 minutes left in the game. Rebounds would begin coming much harder, and Travis would be much harder to slow without the imposing Rooks in the game.

And Stanford took advantage, going inside for a bucket before kicking out on its next play for another three from Pickens, who gave his team its biggest lead of the night, 62-49, that proved insurmountable.

The Cardinal would pull away and win their home half of the “Big Slam” 73-68. Rabb was relatively quiet, finishing with 14 points and 12 boards, and Cal’s ills of old have become anew again. Twenty total turnovers and 30 percent from the foul line just isn’t gonna cut it — not in the Pac-12, not ever.

Austin Isaacsohn covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @AustinIsaacsohn.