ANALYSIS: Turnovers Doom Bears in Finale
BERKELEY -- Forget the obvious from California's rough 83-70 loss to Stanford on Wednesday night. Forget the fight that stopped the game, the plethora of fouls called (40 total, 13 technical, 1 intentional). Forget the 5 total ejections. The Bears lost control of the game way before that.
Focus on another ugly number: 14. As in, 14 turnovers committed by the home team -- 9 in the second half. The sheer number of turnovers is astounding in itself, given how well Cal's veteran guards -- juniors Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe, along with senior Brandon Smith -- have played through the Bears' now-extinct 7-game winning streak. Instead, a good chunk of turnovers were just lost possessions, as a result of the ball being mishandled. Those same three veteran guards accounted for 11 of Cal's 14 turnovers, with the usually-reliable Cobbs committing 8 of them.
"[Cobbs] was not very good with the ball," head coach Mike Montgomery said of his point guard. "He had eight turnovers and some of them were where the ball just came off of his hands.
"We needed leadership and guidance. We turned it over at times when we could have made it interesting. They scored every time in the first part of the second half and really put us in a bind."
The most direct impact came from the 19 points the Cardinal scored off of turnovers alone, many of which came during a second-half stretch that saw Stanford build up a 19-point lead. The indirect result was a buildup of frustration, resulting in the ugly fight that took place with 5:04 left, with the possibility of more suspensions still looming.
Turnovers were an issue from about midway through the first half. The Bears committed 5 first-half turnovers, resulting directly in 7 Stanford points. Combined with the Cardinal shooting 12-from-25 from the field (48%) and 5-for-11 from 3-point range (46%), the Bears found themselves only down 34-31 at halftime.
The wheels began coming off for Cal right at the beginning of the second half. On the Bears' first possession, Cobbs failed to complete a bounce pass on a planned backdoor cut by Crabbe, resulting in a turnover and a Stanford layup the other way. That fast break kick-started a 21-6 Cardinal run over the next six minutes of play. During that stretch, the Bears trusted handlers would turn the ball over 5 total times, directly resulting in 8 Stanford points.
At that point, Cal found itself trailing 56-37, and the opportunity to creep closer to a Pac-12 regular season championship and the No. 1 seed in Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament already slipping away. Stanford would never come close to relinquishing the lead, as the Bears kept scurrying, turning it over 4 more times in the second half.
What particularly stung for Cal was that offensively, the Bears shot the ball well. Cal topped 50% from the floor (26-for-52) for the third time in conference play. They even shot well from the free throw line (15-for-18, for 83%) and had relatively good shooting nights from Crabbe and Cobbs, who combined to score 48 points on 15-for-27 from the field. The issue was that Stanford simply shot the ball better, and the Bears repeatedly gave up possessions that would result in easy points for the Cardinal.
"They had 19 points off of turnovers," said Montgomery. "That's not a statistic we can live with. We shoot 50 percent for the game. It wasn't like when we took the time to get a shot that we weren't making them. We panicked a little bit and we tried to force action that wasn't there. We turned it over, and they got some stuff."
While the final score was lopsided, Stanford's 19 points off of turnovers made up more than the difference in the end. When you factor in Cal's fouls out of frustration, it becomes more than clear what the difference in the game actually was.
Depending on what happens with UCLA and Oregon this weekend, the Bears' likely will start the Pac-12 Tournament with a 2 or 3-seed next week. Cal still figures to be safe with the NCAA Tournament selection committee, though the Bears' projected seeding come Selection Sunday undoubtedly took a hit with the home loss.
Still, while the regular season is over, there is plenty work to do, starting next week on the Vegas Strip. You can bet that the first objective that Montgomery will emphasize is not just to keep cool, but to protect the basketball. If Cal can start with that, then they will have their shots to advance.
Perhaps, the Bears can make their Vegas trip a bit less forgettable than their last regular season game.
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