It seemed, for a moment, that Cal basketball had found its stride.
Five different Bears scored in succession as the blue and gold overturned an early six-point deficit in the first half on the road against rival Stanford. Leading scorer Matt Bradley tabbed his second bucket of the game to regain a one-point lead.
And then, the moment was gone.
What was once a 17-16 lead for Cal suddenly deteriorated into an 11-point shortfall by the end of the half.
A small blue and gold spark remained for the duration of the game, but it was too little, too late, as the Bears fell 76-70 to their rival Stanford and emerged winless from the season series.
Four different players scored in the double digits, including sophomore transfer guard Jarred Hyder, who tallied a season-high 13 points. For once, standout junior guard Bradley, who managed to lead Cal in scoring once again with 15 points, wasn’t on his own. Despite shooting just 37.7% from the field on the night, the Bears, who trailed by as much as 19 on the night, powered back to a five-point deficit in the final minute of the affair.
Hyder scored nine of his 13 points in the final three minutes, connecting on three shots from beyond the arc. Just as he did in this game, the transfer from Fresno State started this season slowly. To be fair, he joined the team mid-season — a difficult circumstance, especially given the Bears’ limited number of practices during the campaign. But if tonight’s performance is any indication of how he’ll play for the rest of the season, then there is hope yet for the Bears.
“In the second half, he finally relaxed. He played with confidence,” said head coach Mark Fox in a postgame press conference. “Hopefully, he can build on that because he’s a good player. He’s been in a real tough situation, so it was nice to see him make some plays.”
Sophomore guard Joel Brown covered the point well on his own, with 12 points on 50% from the field.
Unfortunately for Cal, though, the hole the team dug at the outset of the second half was just too deep — it became the Bears’ grave.
The blue and gold’s defensive woes were a major issue. They simply did not have an answer to Stanford forward Oscar da Silva, the current frontrunner for Pac-12 Player of the Year honors. The German-born player notched 23 points and four blocks as the Cardinal finished shooting a stellar 55.6% from the field.
“At the end of the day, our defense is just not performing at the level we need it to,” Fox said. “The percentage we allowed just felt too high to win on the road or at home for that matter.”
Mismatches and defensive struggles aside, something else was amiss. Senior forward Andre Kelly missed an uncontested two-handed slam in the middle of the second half. Not long after, Bradley attempted a flashy one-handed dunk, only to drill the front of the rim. It was these miscues that contrasted Cal’s tenacity and instability so well. While there is no lack of conviction, the Bears can’t function together to execute their goals.
Sunday’s matchup was not completely devoid of positives. The Bears sank 70 points, their highest tally since their victory over Utah on the road in mid-January. More importantly, these points were evenly distributed in what could only be called a team effort.
A .500 record is virtually out of sight this spring now that Cal is 7-14 overall. But if the Bears can clean up their team defense as the season comes to a close — just as they did with their offense tonight — they might be on the right track once more.