PALO ALTO, Calif. — Las Vegas just got a whole lot more interesting.
With a 64-59 upset of Stanford at Maples Pavilion, Cal head coach Wyking Jones’ ragtag group of youngsters with a never-say-die attitude has emerged triumphant in three straight games. That right there is a winning streak.
The switchup comes fast in this crazy game of hoops.
Led by Connor Vanover’s 24 points, five 3-pointers and six blocks, all of which were career highs, the Bears defeated the Cardinal in Palo Alto for a second consecutive season. In what may be his final career game with Stanford, KZ Okpala his team with 21 points and eight rebounds.
“Just a great overall team win,” said head coach Wyking Jones. “I thought that everybody that played gave us something, helped us to get the victory.
If it’s felt like a while since Cal beat Stanford in Palo Alto in back-to-back seasons, that’s because it has been. The last time Cal defeated Stanford in consecutive seasons was in the 1984-85 and 1985-86 campaigns.
That wasn’t the only bit of history that came about from this game. In addition to snapping a 16-game road losing streak in conference play, the Bears have also now won three straight games for the first time since December 2017.
With the Pac-12 Tournament next up on the docket, Cal is getting hot at the perfect time. As an incredibly young team with a little bit of that “we don’t know any better” swagger, there’s the potential for Jones’ squad to make some noise in Sin City.
“Not sure, but they got to be on the lookout for us,” said redshirt junior Paris Austin when asked if Cal was a team that no one wanted to play come the tournament.
Much to the tune of their last three regular-season encounters, Cal and Stanford’s latest clash down to the game’s final minutes. But truth be told, this game could have been and should have been handled with ease on the blue and gold’s end.
The Bears began the game with the run of their lives, sprinting out to a 24-5 lead as Vanover was unconscious from the field. Even as they slowed down, they were up by double figures for a large chunk of this affair and, at one point, led by as much as 21 points.
What especially helped was that the Cardinal were colder than the former planet known as Pluto. Despite having several competent shooters, Stanford missed its first 21 3-point attempts and didn’t record a make until Marcus Sheffield broke the ice with four minutes left in regulation.
Instead of going for the kill, Cal let off the gas pedal. The regression to the mean was complemented with bland, vanilla offensive sets characterized by an attempt late in the shot clock out of an isolation.
On top of their passivity, the Bears did themselves no favors at the charity stripe as they attempted to close out the game, missing five of nine free throws in the final minute. Darius McNeill, who finished with no points for the first time in his career, missed a pair, and Justice Sueing missed three of four.
Even as the game bordered on slipping away, Cal had just enough juice down the stretch to close out the dub. Sueing, last season’s hero at Maples, found Vanover for an easy bucket plus the foul, and Grant Anticevich knocked down a pair of clutch free throws.
“The backdoor from Justice to Connor for the and-one — that was a great play, a great read,” Jones said. “I just continued to believe that our guys would make the right play and continue to play together. They didn’t need a pep talk. I trusted that they were going to be able to make plays.”