BERKELEY -- From the jump, California came out looking very different against rival Stanford on Wednesday, getting five looks at the basket on the first offensive possession and pulling down eight offensive rebounds in the first half, but instead of holding onto that momentum and fire, the Bears fell to the Cardinal 69-59 at home, coming out on the losing end for the third straight time against Stanford (12-4, 4-1 in Pac-12).
“I’ll take this loss over our last however-many,” said senior forward David Kravish. “The effort was there. The passion was there. It was really a fight for us. Even in that first possession, we got three or four straight offensive rebounds. We didn’t score, but the hustle and the heart was there. If that’s the way we’ve got to lose, if we have to lose, I’ll take it that way.”
Still, a loss is a loss, and after the hottest start in 55 years, Cal (11-7, 1-4) has lost six of its past seven games.
“I think that it just shows that if we play with that intensity every day, we’ll be in the game, even if we’re struggling to score,” said junior Tyrone Wallace, who scored a team-high 14 points on 6-of-22 shooting. “We were battling and helping each other on defense, we were talking, we were more engaged. We were right there until the end. They made a couple big shots at the end to get the lead up, but overall, we should still be confident in each other and ourselves.”
Wallace was out-dueled by senior Chasson Randle, who went 8-for-14 from the field and 4-for-6 from three-point range for a game-high 25 points, scoring most of his three balls when he was left open in transition.
1. That voodoo that you do … for 20 minutes at a time. For at least one half on Wednesday night, Cal looked like an entirely different team than we’ve seen over the past month and a half. The Bears had eight offensive rebounds in the first half alone, got 19 first-half points off of the bench (more points than the bench has scored in all but one complete game this season), highlighted by eight points from Jabari Bird and five from Dwight Tarwater. The Bears’ first possession saw five scoring opportunities. Whether it was the rivalry spirit or Bird’s return, this certainly didn’t look like a Cal team that had lost five of its last six games … at least for the first half.
“That’s something we hadn’t done for a while,” Kravish said. “We got really juiced for this game. It’s a big rivalry game for us. We had been coming out really slow, so one of our focuses was, we had to come out with that fire and that passion from the very beginning, and we did that. We fought them. We fought hard.”
Stanford isn’t a team that shoots the lights out, but the Bears held the Cardinal without a field goal for the final 5:05 of the first stanza, and those 50-50 balls that the Bears had so much trouble with over the past six games went Cal’s way, more often than not, thanks to very spirited play by both Sam Singer and Tarwater.
“I think Dwight is really taking some major steps. Sam is taking some major steps,” said head coach Cuonzo Martin.
“I think Dwight came in and played really well, played a great game tonight, rebounding the ball for us,” Wallace said. “Jabari came in and made some threes. That helped a lot. Guys have got to be ready to come off the bench when the opportunity comes, to come in, play with energy and be aggressive and play to their strengths.”
With Wallace going 0-for-5 to start the game, and picking up two fouls in the first half, it was up to Singer to take the point for nine minutes in the first half, and during those nine minutes, he played like the Sam Singer we’ve seen in practice, instead of the timid figure that played a quiet, 0-for-2 13 minutes against USC, without a single assist.
This Singer was forceful, aggressive, willing to shoot (going 1-for-3 in the first half) and rediscovered his passing vision, to boot, dishing out two assists before the break, highlighted by a dart to Bird that resulted in a three ball with under three minutes before halftime, and a zinger in to Tarwater to follow up his own missed drive, resulting in a pair in the paint for the Cornell transfer.
“I thought he played with great energy,” Martin said of Singer. “I thought he drove the ball. Again, when you have other guys out there that can make shots, it really helps his ability to drive. We spent a lot of time on him just driving the ball – get to the rim, put pressure on the defense – and I thought he did that, especially in the first half.”
But. That mojo faded in the second half, as Bird failed to score another point (despite a pair of three attempts in the final minute), and the Bears scored just three more points off the bench in the second half. Cal gave up four offensive rebounds to Stanford, recorded just six of its own, and was out-boarded 20-19.
In the first half, the Bears out-rebounded the Cardinal, 22-14, but for the first five minutes of the second half, the tables were turned, with Stanford pulling down seven boards to Cal’s two.
“Our point of emphasis was about energy, and about sharing energy and about sharing it both offensively and defensively,” said Cardinal head coach Johnny Dawkins. “We only had one assist in the first half. That’s not us. We had to have a good talk about that, and get our guys focused on how we need to play basketball to be successful, and I thought our guys really did buy into it. Our seniors really set the pace. Those were our pace-setters tonight, and they did a great job.”
How much of that was the fact that Bird played just nine minutes in the second half (and took just two shots), and how much of that is the fact that this team is missing whatever enabled it to play a complete 40 minutes over the first six games of the season?
“I don’t know it’s necessarily Bird being on the floor,” Martin said. “It’s a case of, they made a couple shots, and that’s what we’ve got to get through. When guys make shots, make plays, keep your composure, keep your head, continue to find ways to score, and ultimately, get stops.”
As soon as the second half dawned, the Cardinal answered every charge the Bears made to try to open up the lead, scoring four points to Cal’s first five. When Jordan Mathews hit a long two to put the Bears up by five, Stefan Nastic responded with a two of his own, and so it went. Two straight drives by Roger Moute a Bidias and Wallace ended with the ball hanging on the rim and then rolling off, and Stanford then tied things up with a three-pointer from Randle at 17:10.
“When we go through those stretches when we’re having problems scoring the ball, it was 51-53 for a while there,” Kravish said. “It wasn’t like we were just giving up buckets all the time and we were trading buckets with them. We were getting defensive stops. We came down on the other end and we just couldn’t complete it. Once we can start taking advantage of our defensive stops – because that’s been happening for games now, where we’ll go on stretches, holding teams scoreless for nine, 10 possessions – our defensive stops are there. It’s just a matter of capitalizing on that, and making the other team pay.”
The Bears would not have the lead again for the rest of the game.
“In the second half, shots didn’t fall for us,” said Kravish. “They made some big plays. We’ve just got to keep battling, and battle through all 40 minutes.”
2. Defend the ‘MVP’ like the MVP. Before the game, Martin said that Randle was playing “at an MVP level,” but all too often, he was left open on the break, able to hit uncontested three-point shots. Bird defended Randle well early on, but he’s played one game in the last 44 days, and as the game wore on, it showed.
With Nastic holding serve down low in the second half, and a lack of quality big men, defending Randle – and Brown, for that matter -- on the perimeter was a challenge.
“You’ve got four perimeter guys shooting the ball, obviously Chasson Randle and Brown are two exceptional shooters, so when you’re doubling, you’ve got to pick your poison on in cases like that, so it’s tough,” Martin said. “The way [Nastic] was catching the ball was probably hard to double. I didn’t feel comfortable with our guys doubling him, and where their four-man was positioned.”
3. Post defense. Kravish, Christian Behrens and Kingsley Okoroh picked up two fouls with 4:20 left in the first half, it was Tarwater who picked up the slack as a big body. But, Tarwater was not equipped to defend 6-foot-11 Nastic, and the other three bigs had precious few fouls to give.
“It took us a little out of rhythm with Kingsley being in foul trouble, Christian being in foul trouble, and now you’ve got Dave as your five, when he’s more suitable at the four, and feed off that,” Martin said. “It takes you out of rhythm, but I thought Dwight came in and gave us some good minutes at that position.”
With as hot as Randle and forward Anthony Brown (6-for-12 shooting, 4-of-5 from three-point range) were from the perimeter, plus the changes the Cardinal made to get the ball inside, Martin was loathe to double-team Nastic, who finished 6-for-14 for 13 points, with nine of those coming in the second half.
“Going into the game, the plan was to double him, but I thought he did a good job in the second half of where he was catching the ball,” Martin said. “He caught it on the low block, you send in a double, but he caught it high, so if you catch it high, and the guy we double with is in the corner, now he’s wide open, because their four-man’s a good shooter.”
That was all a part of Stanford’s plan.
“That was something we wanted to do,” said Dawkins. “We have a lot of confidence in Stef being able to play around the basket, and he did that tonight. I thought there were stretches in the game where he really just carried us, by being able to throw it inside to him and him being productive. He doesn’t always have to shoot it. He was able to get some assists by throwing it back out to some of our shooters, and he was very good. I’m glad we were able to find him in the post.”
4. Bring balance to the Force. In the first half, Wallace went 3-for-11 from the floor. The rest of the team went 9-for-21. While Martin said he didn’t mind Wallace taking a total of 22 shots on the night, the junior guard has to find some sort of balance, after having been, for better or worse, the Bears’ only consistent scoring option with Bird out. During Bird’s convalescence, when Wallace wasn’t the leading scorer, that mantle fell to Mathews, who came in averaging 23.8 points per conference game. On Wednesday, Mathews took just two first half shots, missing both, and finished 3-for-10.
“They played the deep drive really well,” said Wallace, who was prevented from going right (his strong drive side, despite being a southpaw) from start to finish. “I’ve just got to recognize that, and get to my left hand more. Tonight, I shot too many shots. David’s 5-for-6, so I should have gotten him the ball more.”
To say Kravish has been inconsistent is to be perhaps a bit too kind, as he’s gone 10-for- 34 over the previous three games, after going 10-for-16 in the win over then-No. 21 Washington. On Wednesday, though, Kravish was feeling it, particularly from the low block.
Kravish was 2-for-2 from the floor in the first half, both in the low post, despite being double-teamed. In the second half, he was double-teamed more consistently, and not open for the same shots he was during the first half.
As good as Kravish was in the shooting department, he turned the ball over three times. He could have had one more turnover, were it not for Wallace scraping up a pass that bounced off of Nastic’s hands. That possession wound up netting the Bears two points on a Tarwater jumper thanks to deft ball movement through Singer, Mathews and Wallace.
“That’s been happening for five, six games now,” Kravish said. “They’ve been sagging off and the ball goes in the post, and after a dribble or two, they send somebody in. One of those turnovers was a product of me trying to rip through the double team, and I lost the ball. It’s something we’ve been working on, and I need to be better when the double team comes. I’ve got to be patient, let guys come through so the double team can’t come as quick. It’s something we have to keep working on. We’ve been working on it. It’ll come.”
Part of the maturation process Wallace has to go through as a point guard is to recognize what – as Kravish said – has been happening now for the past six games, and find other shooters, shooters like Mathews and Bird, who went 2-for-5 in the first half and 2-for-2 from three-point range.
“He’s spent a lot of time really understanding, when he drives the basketball, finding his bodies – what’s behind him,” Martin said. “I think the biggest key for him is getting used to finding guys behind him who drag, especially when you have Jabari, Jordan and Dwight shooting the ball, now you have three threats. Now it’s a matter of getting used to finding those right guys. I’m not really concerned with Tyrone, as far as shooting the ball, because he’ll make the right decisions.”