Bears dethrone Cardinal from top of Pac-12

Josh Kahen/Staff

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Cal men’s basketball isn’t known for its offense, and its scoring didn’t save the Bears as they hosted Stanford this Sunday. Instead, it was lockdown defense from freshman Joel Brown and a pair of clutch free throws from senior Paris Austin that sealed the 52-50 win.

The blue and gold lost by 16 in their first encounter with their rivals. Trying a different approach the second time around would be common sense for most people, but for Cal, the second game against Stanford this season started out as almost an exact replica of the first one.

“We were more disciplined throughout the game, we had a better poise about us — and part of that is playing at home versus playing on the road,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox. “We didn’t change a whole lot, we really didn’t, we just executed a lot better.”

The Bears showed some early promise with a 7-0 lead to start the game, but in classic Cal form, they gave up an 8-2 run and went 1 for 8 from the field in a seven-minute stretch to let Stanford gain momentum.

Both teams were shooting poorly in the first half, with the Cardinal shooting 36% from the field and the Bears close behind at 33%. From beyond the arc, it was even worse with both teams only making one three-pointer in the first half.

Junior forward Oscar da Silva had a near-perfect half for Stanford as he shot 4-5 for nine points and pulled in four rebounds. On the other side of the court, Matt Bradley, who came into the game as Cal’s leading scorer, was having an uncharacteristically quiet night with only two points on four attempts in the first period.

With such a slow game, it was no surprise the score at the break was only 23-21 with the Cardinal holding a slight lead. The Bears were winning the turnover battle and had all three blocks of the night, but they were getting out-rebounded at both ends. Cal was able to keep it close, but it needed a few more shots to land or Bradley to return to his usual self to topple Stanford from its seat at the top of the Pac-12.

“We have matured, we’ve been battle-tested,” Fox said. “I think that this team has continued to come back and learn from what happened before. We try to learn from every game and they have been very consistent in their approach to learn from winning or losing.”

The defensive battle continued into the second half, but Daejon Davis was able to spark the Stanford team with a breakout dunk and an alley-oop in the first few minutes of the final period. The Cardinal surged on a 12-2 run while the Bears slipped into a 1-14 shooting drought to start the half.

Austin was able to respond with two jumpers to get the people in the crowd out of their seats, and Bradley followed up with five back-to-back points to tie the game up at 41-41. The Bears capped off their 17-2 run with an Andre Kelly layup to give the blue and gold a 45-41 lead. During this run, Bradley’s scoreline returned to normal as he finished with 14 points.

“It was huge. Having such huge support behind you is great for anybody,” said graduate transfer Kareem South. “The energy was just super contagious and we felt that throughout the whole game.”

With the game tied up at 50 apiece, Cal decided to get revenge on Daejon Davis, who scored his season-high of 20 against the Bears just over three weeks ago. With the Cardinal looking to take the lead, Davis drove straight into Brown, who played perfect defense and forced a turnover that gave the Bears a possession with no shot clock. Then, Austin took a shot at the Stanford defense and drew a foul. The 6’0 guard nailed both free throws to essentially end the game.

South joined Austin and Bradley with double-digit scoring for Cal as it improves to 3-3 in conference and remains undefeated at home in Pac-12 play. Stanford falls from first to fourth in the conference with a 4-2 record.

“This win means a lot to us, you know, we fought back as a team,” said Austin. “Just coming off of two losses, our coaches did a great job this week just preparing us, so I think for us to show that fight and come back and get that win — it was really good for us.”

The Bears have certainly improved their ability to play consistently during all 40 minutes of the game — and beating a talented team like the Cardinal is a good sign for the rest of the season — but they will need to start winning away games to become a real threat in the Pac-12.

Trilok Reddy covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].