Competing against a Stanford team that was 1-3 in the conference and allowing opponents to shoot 41%, The Bears squandered an early hot start (7-for-13 from the floor and a six-point lead) by shooting just 30% for the final 31 minutes of play. Cal finished 22-for-63 on the night, an uninspiring 36.4%.
The Cardinal didn't fare much better on their home floor, hitting just 19 of their 53 shots (35.8%), but they won the game at the free throw line, where they hit 10 more shots than Cal took, and 14 more than the Golden Bears converted. While Cal only missed four shots, they came at inopportune times -- front ends of 1-and-1s, or opportunities for the normally infallible Allen Crabbe.
Bears coach Mike Montgomery said, "I think the group of people we had today were good enough to win this game. We have to do the small things that win basketball games. We had a couple of rebounds and (Stanford forward Josh) Huestis just took the ball away from us."
How bad was the free throw disparity? Only two of Stanford's final 15 points came from the field, and they had just one basket in the final 7:07 of play, yet pulled away throughout that period.
Montgomery said, "It's hard to win when they get twice as many opportunities at the line. I don't think Stanford is very physical, I think that's something Johnny (Dawkins) is worried about. I'm going to have to go back and review what a foul is and what contact is, because I clearly don't understand it now."
Cal had opportunities. Trailing 37-29 at the break, they came out strong in the second half and closed the gap to a single point at 43-42, and had the ball in the front court, but an ill-advised cross-court pass by Justin Cobbs, who again had to play 40 minutes because Brandon Smith was not cleared to play after his concussion nearly a month ago, was intercepted by Chasson Randle and converted into a breakaway basket. The Bears never got as close again.
"I just tried to read the offensive player," Randle said. "He kind of telegraphed the pass to the wing player and I shot the gap."
David Kravish, who hit his first five shots, appeared on his way to a career game, but hit only one of his final seven attempts, finishing with just 14 to share the team lead with Allen Crabbe. Crabbe has only had one truly good game in January (against USC) - scored 14 points on 6-for-13 shooting, but looked just terrible doing so, scoring late in a contest that was already decided.
Randle, who had 10 at the half and finished with 15, committed a foul in the waning seconds of the first half, because Stanford had a foul to give.
"It was from the coach," Randle said. "I thought about it at halftime, it was a bad foul on me, but it worked out in the end."
The reason it was a bad foul is, with about eight minutes remaining, Randle picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench. The Bears had a final shot, trailing by eight, but when Randle returned to the floor four minutes later, he enjoyed a ten point lead.
Several times Cal had opportunities, but the ones that hurt the most to waste were the opportunity to take back the lead in the second half, and one at the end of a Stanford possession. The Bears played 34 seconds of rock-solid defense, and Dwight Powell was 21 feet from the basket with Richard Solomon defending him.
Powell, the game's leading scorer with 17 points, pump-faked Solomon into the air and drew a three-shot foul. Powell converted all three en route to a nine-for-nine afternoon from the charity stripe.
"I wouldn't say surprised (at the foul)," said Powell. "I would say I was glad, I tried to get him off his feet with a pump fake. He's a great shot blocker. Any time you get three it's a momentum booster for our team.
Montgomery was more succinct: 'I don't know how you foul a guy in the three-point area with one second on the shot clock."
Defenses have keyed on Crabbe all years, and his body language is beginning to show frustration earlier in the game than in the past.
"They will try to find ways to keep me frustrated." Crabbe said. "It's nothing new. They did a good job in the first half. I have to learn how to play through stuff like that. Everywhere you go, there's another defender there to help. I have to get my teammates more involved."
Montgomery agreed. "My feeling has always been," he said, "if you want to take a guy out of the game, you can. You face him and get help whenever he gets the ball. You try to make them pay with other people, the helper is out of position, you have to go to other people. We were 18 for 52 in the paint, we have to get production in the paint, rebound, finish, get to the foul line. We are getting pretty good looks down there."
In addition to the vast advantage at the free throw line, Stanford enjoyed exponentially more production from their healthy bench than Cal did from their depleted one, with the biggest contribution coming from John Gage, who hit all four three-point shots he took en route to 14 points.
"Well, I'd like to have 26 points off the bench," said Montgomery. "We can't make excuses, I don't have a lot of flexibility. I can't make adjustments. I can't really rest Allen Crabbe, I need him on the floor. We are missing some toughness, some intelligence, some fundamentals. We just don't have it. Bak had a good game the other day, he struggled today. Jeff (Powers)will get a loose ball and take a charge, but he's reluctant to make a play."
After surrendering 20 or more offensive rebounds the past two game, the Bears were more competitive at Stanford, being out-rebounded 39-35. Huestis led all rebounders with 12, while David Kravish (14 points, 9 boards, 37 minutes) had the best overall line for the Bears.
Cal continues on the road with a trip to the Rocky Mountains next week, facing Utah and Colorado. With a 2-3 conference record, no likelihood of seeing Ricky Kreklow on the floor any time soon, and only question marks surrounding Brandon Smith, it's not too early to say their season may turn on their ability to sweep these games, and beating Colorado in Boulder is a very tall order.