Stanford Wants Complete Game at Cal

The Cardinal have gone from finishing strong to fading late in games. They look to put it together against the Bears.

While speaking to the media twelve days ago, Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins broke out the old proverb: “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

It was true back then, as he was addressing the Card’s tendency to start slowly. Although that problem has been solved, it’s even more true now, because suddenly Stanford can’t finish games. The first trend was a mere nuisance. The second pattern has been much more troublesome.

On Wednesday night, Stanford has another chance to put together a complete 40-minute performance. The Cardinal (11-4, 3-1 Pac-12; #37 RPI) close a three-game road swing by heading to Berkeley for a meeting with Cal (11-6, 1-3; #113 RPI). Stanford has won five of its last six, while the Bears have dropped five of their last six.

The Cardinal’s trip to Los Angeles was met with mixed results, as a tenth straight loss at Pauley Pavilion against UCLA was followed by a close win over USC. In both games, the Cardinal had sizable second-half leads, and neither of them held up. A 13-point lead with 8:29 left devolved into a chance for the Trojans to win the game with seconds left. Against the Bruins, Stanford completely blew a 14-point lead before finally succumbing in double overtime.

In both games, the Card failed to make a shot from the floor in the final five minutes of the second half. Stanford nearly went the final 5:27 against USC without scoring a single point (Stefan Nastic’s free throw with 1.7 seconds left saved the Cardinal from that fate). They missed eleven straight shots over the final 8:41 of the second half against UCLA.

The good news is that Stanford has been deadly from long range of late, busting a school-record tying 15 three-pointers against UCLA, and connecting on nine first-half attempts against USC. The bad news is that the Cardinal seemed too quick to rely on those three-pointers, and they didn’t fall when they were absolutely, positively needed most.

This has not been lost on Dawkins. “You have days when they go in and days when they don’t,” he said during his radio postgame interview on Sunday. “For us, we’ve had halves when they go in and halves when they don’t. We want to avoid falling into that trap, and I thought we fell into it the last few games.”

The fact that Stanford has struggled to score easy baskets has not helped matters much. The Card converted just 11 of 40 shots inside the arc against UCLA. Throughout much of the season, Stanford has consistently blown its share of layups, putbacks, and tip-ins.

Meanwhile, the Bears have their own problems. They were swept in Los Angeles, losing to the Trojans and the Bruins by a combined 33 points. Cal has wins over Syracuse and Washington. They also have losses to Cal State Bakersfield and Washington State.

Junior guard Tyrone Wallace is in his first year at the point for the Bears, and has scored 16 points or more in 13 of 14 games. Power forward David Kravish leads Cal with 26 blocked shots on the season. Those two have accounted for nearly 43% of the Bears’ scoring.

Sophomore guard Jordan Mathews has turned up his scoring output during Pac-12 play, averaging 23.8 points per game during that span. In Cal’s upset win over Washington, Mathews ripped the Huskies for 31 points. Against the Los Angeles schools, new head coach Cuonzo Martin inserted sophomore forward Roger Moute a Bidias and freshman center Kingsley Okoroh into the starting lineup.

A Stanford win on Wednesday would make it three straight wins for the Cardinal at Haas Pavilion. In all, Stanford has taken four of the last six games against Cal.

“There are 18 league games, and we’ve played four,” Dawkins summarized on Sunday. “We need to make sure we keep getting better as we keep going through this league. I still see a lot of room for improvement.”

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