Although it seems improbable, Cal men’s basketball has not lost a postseason game in 729 days. In the Mark Fox era, the Bears have just a 5-24 record when playing outside of Haas Pavilion, but two of those wins have come at the most crucial times. Last year, 10th-seeded Cal upset seventh-seeded Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament a day before the remaining part of the season was canceled due to the pandemic. On Wednesday, the Bears returned to Las Vegas as the 11th seed — this time to give the sixth-seeded Cardinal a 76-58 beating. Stanford did not have a lead at any point in either game.
“Hard-fought game, and we have a lot of respect for Stanford,” Fox, Cal head coach, said. “They had beaten us earlier in the year and we knew we’d have to be much more physical and play a lot harder tonight than we had earlier, and we did that.”
In college basketball, it is often said beating a team three times in a year is difficult. The Cardinal faced this challenge in the Pac-12 tournament after sweeping the regular season series with the blue and gold. These back-to-back losses by a combined 21 points must have left a sour taste in Cal’s mouth because the Bears brought everything they had to T-Mobile Arena. They shot an incredible 54% from the field, including an astonishing 53% from beyond the arc on 17 attempts.
“The hard work that our kids put in showed off,” Fox said. “I’ve got to give our guys credit. It’s hard to practice like we practiced in the month of March. But they did it. They bought into it, and I thought it carried over to the game today.”
On the other hand, the Cardinal’s offense was hampered by the blue and gold’s defensive showing and was limited to 38% shooting for just 58 points — the team’s fourth-lowest total all season. Oscar da Silva, Stanford’s leading scorer who averaged 23.5 points per game against Cal in the regular season, was kept to only 12 points on four-for-12 shooting.
The Bears had a strong start to the game and managed to keep the Cardinal off the scoreboard for nearly four and a half minutes while they built a lead on the other end of the court. Cal held on to that lead for dear life through the remainder of the game, and while it got close at times, the blue and gold put it away with a 24-7 run late in the second half.
Newly crowned All-Pac-12 Second Team guard Matt Bradley had a career day with 19 points, six rebounds and six assists. Bradley was joined by fellow guard Ryan Betley and forward Andre Kelly in scoring double-digits for the Bears.
“A lot of guys stepped up big,” Kelly said. “We were just focused on being crisp on our offense, doing the little things right — and we did a lot of good things tonight.”
Cal now prepares to face third-seeded Colorado after splitting the regular season series. The Buffaloes also happen to be the source of the Bears’ last postseason defeat almost two years ago. On Thursday, Cal will get its chance to remedy that defeat and threaten the Colorado’s March Madness seeding.
“They’ve got a really complete and experienced team,” Fox said. “Obviously, a team that’s already going to be in the NCAA tournament. They’re playing for seeding. They’ll give us a great challenge, and we’ll have to play our best game of the year to have a chance to win. We’ll have to be better tomorrow than we were today, but fortunately, we have that opportunity.”
Trilok Reddy covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]