“I think the key for us is we just didn’t get stops defensively,” said Cal coach Cuonzo Martin. “We had breakdowns and missed key box outs. They are talented basketball players, [and] you have to make their catches tough and their looks tough. When the shot goes up, you have to box out, and I thought their two freshmen had a great game.”
Despite a career high 23 points by senior center David Kravish, Stanford’s game plan was clearly effective from early on. The Cardinal (17-9, 8-6) chose to attack the Bears on the interior, which was thin even before forward Christian Behrens was ruled out with a knee surgery last week. Stanford point guard Chasson Randle immediately looked down low for center Stefan Nastic, who dominated the Bears last time out in Berkeley, but it was too unlikely freshmen heroes -- Anthony Brown and Michael Humphrey -- who proved to be the X-factors for the Cardinal down low.
“When you have veteran perimeter guys that are guards, that play as well as they do, your freshmen can just be freshmen,” said Martin. “It wasn’t like they were coming down too many times posting up and making plays. The guards would make plays, they would get offensive rebounds, put backs and loose balls. They were aggressive, and they did a good job.”
Cal started with Dwight Tarwater and Kravish down low, leaving freshman center Kingsley Okoroh as the lone big to come off the bench. It was evident early on that Tarwater -- the 6-foot-6 graduate transfer from Cornell -- would not be able to handle the tag team of talented freshmen that Stanford offers.
Stanford grabbed 13 offensive rebounds on the afternoon, leading to numerous extra possessions and 14 second-chance points. While it was true that Cal also shot just 21% from three and 57% from the free throw line, it was the numerous second chance opportunities, coming in big moments, that were the critical swing to this game.
“They’re playing at Stanford, in a good conference at a good school so you would expect players to be able to play,” said Kravish on the emergence of Brown and Humphrey. “Nastic had a tough day, and they stepped up, so that was good for them.”
Just under five minutes into the game, the Cardinal got the first of many key offensive rebounds, when, after a missed jumper by Brown, Cal thought that it had possession, but a big offensive rebound by Nastic ended in a Marcus Allen three pointer.
Only two minutes later, it became even more evident that the height difference down low would be a problem, especially with Kravish and Okoroh both picking up two relatively quick fouls. With the home team leading by three, Travis Reid missed a jumper which resulted in two offensive rebounds by the Cardinal before Nastic was fouled to send him to the line for two. This was just one of the many instances where Cal could have closed on Stanford’s lead but failed to hold the Cardinal to one shot per possession. In fact, Stanford had 54 shots on 66 possessions, and while the Bears took 55 shots on 66 possessions, the Cardinal were able to able to get to the line more often, taking 28 shots from the charity stripe (and making 19) while Cal went 12-of-21.
The Bears only recorded nine offensive rebounds, and were out-boarded 42-30 on the night.
Injuries and, frankly, a lack of quality recruiting at the post position, have left Cal with little depth down low, and the Bears stood no chance against the long Stanford front line that had two players – Brown and Humphrey – with double-doubles, Brown notching 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Humphrey added 14 and 11.
Cal was holding onto an outside shot that there was a chance of an NCAA berth, but any remaining hope was all but certainly quashed on Saturday night, as the Bears look to be NIT-bound.