Cal men’s basketball opened its Pac-12 season at Stanford on Thursday and it was a brutal game — not for the players, coaches or referees, but for the fans who watched an ugly performance from both teams. The hard-to-watch bout mercifully ended when Stanford defeated Cal 68-52.
“We have a lot of areas we’re trying to improve on, which is not a surprise,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox before the game. “We knew that would be the case and we’ve been pleased with our team’s approach to constantly try to get better.”
In the first half, however, both teams played their sloppiest basketball of the season thus far. The Bears and the Cardinal started 1-8 from the field and did not do much to improve that. Both squads gave up turnovers and took poor shots, but Cal did this more often. Even when the Bears found an open look they couldn’t find the net.
Somehow, Cal did land a few shots early in the first half and created a five-point lead, but Stanford promptly dropped 11 unanswered points. Despite early moments of clarity on offense, both teams continued to shoot themselves in the foot with unforced turnovers off of double dribble and traveling calls. The Cardinal managed to gradually recover from a slow start in the first half and started to build a lead as the Bears continued to flounder.
By the time the teams retreated to their locker rooms after the half, Stanford led Cal 32-21 and the Bears shot only 28% on 8-29 shooting (with an unbelievable 11 turnovers). The Cardinal scored 15 of their 32 points off of turnovers while giving up just four points on turnovers themselves.
The second half was worse for Cal as the Stanford players returned to their normal selves and led by at least nine (but as much as 21) and the Cardinal hit a stride on offense and drowned the Bears with their defense. Stanford junior guard Daejon Davis set his season-high with 20 points and led his team in points, rebounds and assists.
“I don’t believe in reset. I think that’s one of the issues with this generation,” Fox said. “Our program is in the position that it’s in, and the reality is that we have to work to change it. We recognize that the past is the past and you have to focus on going forward, that’s why the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror, but we also have to recognize that we have issues that we have to address within our team and within our program to ultimately rebuild it.”
In the end, Cal shot only 30% from the field on 17-56 shooting, matching its season-high for missed shots. Grant Anticevich tried his best to keep the Bears afloat with an efficient 16 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season, but there was little help to be found.
“We have to have some other guys start to finish some plays so we have some more balance. The more balance that you can get, then I think you see the ball spread around more and you have more movement because you have more guys that are scoring it,” Fox said. “That’s going to be an issue for our team until we can develop more scoring, which is going to take time.”
This game was a nightmare for Cal, who was already an underdog heading into the matchup. To have a chance, the Bears needed to limit their unforced errors and not shoot rushed low-percentage shots — but they did almost the exact opposite. They will need to fix the fundamentals before they have a shot at any Pac-12 foes, let alone a talented squad like Stanford.
Cal’s sole bright spot in this game is that it notched more offensive rebounds than its opponent for the third time this season despite major rebounding trouble earlier in the season. The other two times were the Bears’ most recent games against Boston College and Harvard, showing a solid upward trend. Though all three of these games ended in a loss, if Cal can fix the rebounding issue, then there is hope the team can fix the rest of its problems.