Home court advantage is a huge factor in how sports games play out — especially when looking at college sports. Young players can get hyped up easily by a noisy, cheering home crowd, or put down by a home crowd that’s disappointed and booing. On the road, these cheers from opposing fans can cause players to panic as they play at an unfamiliar arena far from home.
For Cal, there’s been an obvious difference between the team’s play at Haas Pavilion and the team’s play at, well, literally any other basketball court. The Bears are 8-2 at home this season. Away from home, the Bears are 0-8.
On Sunday, Cal will play Stanford for the second and final time this season. In the two sides’ first matchup just over three weeks ago, the Cardinal shut down the Bears’ offense and held them to just 52 points, resulting in a 68-52 win for Stanford at home. Cal fans will pray, however, that its home court form will emerge in full effect this time around. One thing’s for sure — it won’t be an easy victory, no matter how hard the crowd shows out.
The Cardinal currently sits atop the Pac-12 with a 4-1 conference record, 15-3 overall. To put into perspective how good this Stanford team actually is, despite not being ranked nationally, the Cardinal boasts a better record than Pac-12 opponents No. 12 Oregon, No. 22 Arizona and No. 23 Colorado.
They just lost their first conference game Saturday to USC in a game that was so tightly contested it had to go into overtime to be decided. The Bears’ last game was also a loss, but an embarrassing one in which they only scored 40 — yes, 40 — against UCLA in a 10-point defeat.
Stanford is a well-rounded team with multiple scoring threats, including forward Oscar da Silva (16.2 ppg) and guard Tyrell Terry (15.8 pgg). This makes it hard for a Cal defense that’s been solid all season to focus in on key players and stopping the Cardinal offense. In the last matchup, the Bears let guard Daejon Davis drop 20 points on them — one of his top-5 scoring performances in 77 games played with Stanford.
Cal’s biggest problem, however, will likely come on the offensive end. The Bears currently rank 327th in the NCAA in scoring. Yes, they score that little. And it’s not a case of one person needing to step up to take some of the weight off of guard Matt Bradley’s (17.5 ppg) shoulders — the entire team needs to help out.
A 40-point game in college basketball is unbearable to watch. A team averaging just 63.2 ppg is miserable to watch. If Cal wants to fans to keep coming and support their home team, it needs to figure out a solution to the offensive struggles — and fast. If the Bears want any shot at beating the Cardinal this year, literally everyone has to step up on the offensive end.
Head coach Mark Fox already has the program trending in the right direction, but if they want a win against the Cardinal and to compete for the rest of the season, the offense will have to find its way. It’s on Fox to turn things around, whether that’s simply running different plays, running certain plays more frequently or trying out new players.
In the last outing against Stanford, although Cal fell short, freshman D.J. Thorpe had a solid game, recording nine points on 3-3 shooting. If the Bears see this kind of production from multiple guys who aren’t normally called upon, they can put themselves in the game with this Cardinal team.
This season, Haas Pavilion has been Cal’s friend, but it’s been nearly eight years since the Bears defended their home court successfully against Stanford. The Cardinal is surely a favorite to keep that streak going, but if there’s one thing Cal may actually have on its side this year, it’s fan support.
The game between these two Bay Area rivals will tip off in Berkeley on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.