Bears buckle with everything on the line

California can't capitalize on opportunity to win Pac-12 title, falling to Stanford 75-70 to close regular season on two-game losing streak.

PALO ALTO, Calif. – It was all there for California, a share of the Pac-12 championship and the top seed in the conference tournament next week just waiting to be seized.

But the Golden Bears let it slip through their fingers, falling 75-70 to Stanford at Maples Pavilion in front of 6,899 on Sunday afternoon.

More troubling, Cal looked like a team on the verge of wasting everything it worked for, ending the regular season with its first losing streak of the year.

Head coach Mike Montgomery and senior forward Harper Kamp alluded to a team with serious issues, despite a 13-5 record in conference, 23-8 overall.

"We just played really soft. Not a single one of us was ready to play," Kamp said.

"We looked nervous. We played nervous. We acted nervous," Montgomery added.

Both statements were obvious from the opening tip on Senior Day, as Stanford (20-10, 10-8 Pac-12) opened on a 23-10 tear. The physical Cardinal defense frustrated Cal into seven turnovers during that stretch, while guard Jorge Gutierrez picked up two early fouls.

The senior sat with 14:58 left in the half, but reentered the game four minutes later in an attempt to stabilize the offense, which was never able to get into a rhythm. Players were standing around, waiting in vain that someone could create a shot.

"To Stanford's credit, they came out and were extremely physical early and it really just got into our heads if nothing else. It was just very, very physical and we having a hard time doing anything," Montgomery said.

When a quality shot did appear, it didn't fall, as Cal made just three of its first 17 shots from the field.

"You can't go on the road and do that. We had to work real hard to get shots. When we did manage to get good shots, for us not to be able to finish the play…" Montgomery said before trailing off.

It wasn't until Gutierrez picked up his third foul on a technical that the offense finally sparked, making eight of its final 13 looks to pull within five at the break.

Cal fought through another cold snap to open the second half, this time a dismal 5-of-16 shooting stretch to fall behind by as much as 13 points, but still had chances to steal the game in the final minute.

Allen Crabbe hit one of two free throws to make it 72-20 with 1:11 to play, but officials did not call a foul on a screen that leveled Gutierrez and Kamp picked up his fifth seconds later.

Aaron Bright made one free throw, missed the second and recovered his own shot with 42 seconds to play.

Bright again went to the line, again made one of two shots and again Stanford came away with the rebound. Bright was fouled once again, putting the final point on the scoreboard.

The Cardinal had nine offensive rebounds in the second half, leading to 10 second-chance points.

"At that stage of the game, had we made those plays the pressure shifts. We weren't able to keep the pressure on them," Montgomery said.

Crabbe scored a game-high 20 points, while Kamp added 19 and seven rebounds.

Freshman Chasson Randle scored a team-high 17 for Stanford, one of four players in double-figures.

A third meeting between the Bay Area rivals seems likely next week in the Pac-12 Tournament at Staples Center, provided Stanford gets past Arizona State on Wednesday. Second-seeded Cal will play the winner Thursday at 6 p.m., something Montgomery hopes will spur the team to work past its issues quickly.

"It should be fresh in our minds," he said of the sudden rematch.

Lose that and Cal could put itself in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament entirely, given the absence of quality wins during the non-conference slate and incredible weakness of the Pac-12 as a whole.

This time Cal must seize the opportunity being presented, or else the good feelings that were radiating throughout the team just two weeks ago will be extinguished once and for all.


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