Turn one way, the Golden Bears rally to a strong finish in Pac-12 play and return to the NCAA tournament. Turn the other, the bottom falls out on the season.
The way Cal head coach Mike Montgomery and his players were speaking, the latter feels like the more likely outcome.
"It was pretty apparent from the start they were way more ready to play than we were," Montgomery said. "They really took it to us physically. They dominated us physically and on the glass in particular."
"We played with no heart, no passion," forward David Kravish said.
"They just played harder than us," guard Allen Crabbe said. "That's all you can say."
Crabbe, the leading scorer in the conference coming into this week, seemed the most troubled by the performance. His voice, barely audible at times in the media workroom, was filled not with anger but confusion at how completely Cal was outworked.
They were sloppy with entry passes and could not finish around the rim. They were sluggish on defense and showed no urgency for loose balls. They were pushed around in the paint and on the boards.
This wasn't about limitations with the team, a lack of depth or skill. This was about desire. Washington wanted it more, when quite frankly they shouldn't have.
The Huskies were playing their third consecutive road game, a stretch that started by flying across the country to play Connecticut. Then, they traveled across the state to play at Washington State, before heading to the Bay Area three days later to meet the whims of television.
Washington might have practiced once between Sunday and Thursday, but definitely flew twice. They should have been worn out, and a strong start by Cal could have persuaded them to pack it in.
Instead, Washington had five offensive rebounds and four second-chance points in the first 5:21, giving them the inspiration to keep playing hard and attacking the rim.
They finished with 20 offensive rebounds, a season-high for a Cal opponent and the 11th in 14 games with at least 11, and 16 second-chance points.
"We talked about it at halftime, we talked about it after the game, we talked about it before the game and it is still a problem," Kravish said. "Everybody's got to hit the glass, everybody's got to box out, and it's a team effort. We didn't play very well as a team today."
Contrast that with Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar's remarks.
"Our guys were just active tonight," Romar said. "Anytime you get a lot of offensive rebounds, it's effort. Our guys were relentless, and it wasn't just one guy."
Protecting the defensive glass has been a concern all season, even dating back to the exhibition against San Francisco State, indicating that players still haven't learned the lesson.
Cal will get guard Brandon Smith back from a concussion soon enough, while the timetable for Ricky Kreklow (foot) is less clear. They can help with structural issues with the offense, as the experiment of using freshman Tyrone Wallace at the point to get Justin Cobbs going as a scorer didn't work.
But there is no fix for lack of effort, except by playing hard. That is a lesson Montgomery is still trying to impart.
"You're going to have to understand that we physically are not superior to everybody," Montgomery said. "We can't just walk out on the floor and just be better than everybody.
"We're going to have to really compete to have a chance. I don't think that's totally ingrained in us."
If Cal hasn't learned that lesson now, they never will.
Dan Greenspan writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.