Last Sunday's game was a good old-fashioned turf war, and the 75-70 result in
favor of the home team gave Stanford 20 regular season wins and a real shot at
an NIT bid at the very worst. With such a memorable game played just four days
ago, this one was sure to be another nail-biter.
"What do you think?" I asked Drew Shiller as I sat down next to him in the cordoned-off media hospitality area in Staples.
"I have no idea." Neither did Scott Reiss. Nor I (by the way, what the hell was I doing sitting among that kind of company?).
I was just happy Stanford avoided a horrid-RPI loss to Arizona State the night before, but low-major patsies weren't holding serve across the country. The newest team to make me wish ill will on its program? The UT-Arlington Mavericks, who damn near went undefeated in the regular season Southland slate, but got their mood ruined by McNeese State by a score of 92-72. This damn NIT bubble is shrinking by the minute! With Savannah State already out of the MEAC tourney, perhaps a Bethune-Cookman Wildcats run through the eastern-most HBCU conference tourney could give the Cardinal a slight RPI boost?
None of this matters, of course, if Stanford just takes care of business and knocks off Cal for a second consecutive time. All this posturing can be eliminated with another top-40 RPI victory and forget the NIT, the Big Dance would still be in the picture.
Excuse the opening tip, but the game got off to a rather nice start for the Farm Boys. After the Cobbs dunk, the Card showed they were still hot from the arc, even if Andrew Zimmermann needed a little help from a friendly bounce off the iron. Chasson Randle didn't need any generous rolls, coming off a curl cut and swishing over Justin Cobbs in one fell swoop to give Stanny a 6-4 advantage.
I didn't think I would find myself saying this, but Stanford just looked like the better team in the first half. The Farm Boys had more purpose in their movement, more poise to their game. Cal was turning the ball over left and right - whether it was a Harper Kamp pass that got deflected towards the rim or one of many Jorge's first period miscues; throwing a post-entry pass as if it were a Stephen Strasburg fastball to an expecting Kamp on the low block.
But at the under-16 timeout, an ominous sign appeared in the most unexpecting way. Our host for the evening Armon told everyone to get their programs out and see if a 76 sticker was there. The winner would get some BS - I don't remember what. Anyways, a Cardinal fan happened to have the sticker in her program guide...just like a Sun Devil fan did last night during the Stanford-Arizona State game.
And you know what happened to the Forks.
Still, the signs of defeat would have to wait. While Harper Kamp was indeed making a living in the paint, the Cardinal seemed to have an answer for every make by 22 white. On one occasion, it was Aaron Bright who penetrated into the key, drawing defenders - found my man! ‘Twas Josh Owens from the left baseline for the deuce (Bright has gotten a lot better as the season has worn on at looking for others when penetrating, though the same might not be said about the latter stages of this game).
But mostly, it was Andrew Zimmermann. Who?! Not Mike Jones; nah, the lumberjack. More than ever, Z was looking to take his man - usually Kravish - off the dribble from the top of the key. And it worked; driving his way to the left block, excuse-me-sir-hesitation to draw the contact and knock down the bunny for an and-1. After Z split a pair after Crabbe inadvertently kicked him in the face to pick up his second personal foul at the 6:33 mark, Andrew had nine freaking points!
The lead would stay between three and seven for the rest of the half. Stanford had its opportunities to pull away even further, but couldn't convert offensively. The same could be said for Cal - the Golden Bears had their chances to slice into the Stanford edge even further, but turnovers doomed them all half long. Try 14 through 20 minutes!
It came down to the last possession of the first half, after the Card had gotten a much-needed to stop to ensure at the very least a five-point advantage. And it looked like that would be all the edge Stanford would have going into the break as Josh Huestis dribbled himself into a corner, got doubled, picked it up, but smartly called a TO. Then Bright almost had a TO out of the TO. But somehow, someway, Bright kept control of the rock, almost ran into a teammate and lofted one up right before the buzzer...gets the roll!
Stanford was shooting 37 percent and turned it over eight times in the first half, yet the Farm Boys were the ones celebrating a touchdown edge over their cross-Bay rivals. Despite those stats, Stanford was clearly the better team on the floor in the first half. It was really the first time in quite a while where I looked at a Stanford-Cal game and say "hey, Stanford is playing definitively better basketball; the Cardinal are the better team". It sort of had those Stanford over Arizona State victories from 2009 and 2010 feel to ‘em. Cal was the team with the better record, but Stanford was just giving a more focused effort.
Though you could look at it the other way, as Mike Montgomery would later say he did - the Golden Bears had turned it over 14 times, Jorge was playing like crap again, Kamp had three giveaways himself! And despite all that, it was just a seven-point deficit for Cal.
Apparently the first half was just the calm before the storm, as the Golden Bears started the second period as if they were shot out of a cannon. The first play from scrimmage was run for the Pac-12 Player of the Year: Jorge curling to the right wing, receives the pass...I didn't even have to watch it to know that S.O.B. was going down the drain. Then Jorge attacked and got to the line - nailed both.
Jorge's trip to the charity stripe was just the beginning of a long parade of fouls and freebies. Cal clearly took Harper Kamp's Sunday postgame presser to heart in this final 20. It was as if the Golden Bears realized "shoooooot, if we don't come out this second half and play some damn basketball, we might be dancing our way to the Big Apple instead of the Big Easy!" After Owens went with his patented left shoulder move on Harper Kamp, he quickly fouled Cobbs on the next possession down, and that was his third with 19 minutes to play. Maybe you trust your senior there to not pick up another foul, but Dawkins wasn't willing to chance it quite yet. His replacement, Jack Trotter, picked up a foul the next time down. Three team fouls in 97 seconds.
Cal was attacking, that was for sure, and Stanford didn't know how to respond defensively. By the time Crabbe took a few steps back to make it rain, Cal had completely erased the halftime deficit and gave the Cardinal five more to ponder. The Golden Bear fans, clearly outnumbering those in cardinal red, rose and hollered in unison. Dawkins had no choice but to call timeout.
Cal woke the hell up. You knew Stanford wouldn't be able to hold Cal to 23 points for another half, but 15 points in the first four minutes of the second half? A 15-3 run, just like 2011-12 Stanford men's basketball at its apex.
Stanford clearly needed some form offensively to get back in this one, so the Cardinal decided to call 5-SURE for all its security needs, and the Rock Island Rookie quickly responded by beating the Cal defense into the lane and finishing for the layup.
Though the Cardinal had started to get its groove back offensively, the Bears held on to theirs, and the roles were reversed. With the Cardinal now trying to play catch-up, Oski always had an answer for each bucket. Zimmermann hit another three to cut it to two; Jorge answered with an equal amount. Bright knocked down a right-wing trey in front of his bench, swaggerly stared at Gutierrez's back; Jorge must have felt the stare as he wasn't to be outdone.
Regardless, the Farm Boys had their legs back underneath ‘em, and all it took was one stop to really the pressure on these dudes.
Cal wasn't backing down, not in the slightest. Kamp was abusing Stanford down low, moving well without the ball to find the soft spot in the key. When Stanford crawled to within one, he showed off some vision as well, executing the high-low game to perfection with a bounce pass to Kravish on the left block for another uncontested layup.
Stanford would eventually break through and tie this thing up on a pair of Chasson Randle free throws after boxing Cobbs out well and forcing Justin to foul him. Where Stanford once had eight team fouls to Cal's one, the refs made sure they evened this thing up, in true Pac-12 official fashion (though I must say, there wasn't a lot to argue about at this juncture). But Cal pushed back out in front, then Stanford cut it to one, then Cal upped it to two on a free throw, and back and forth we went.
Bright was tired of this whole Cal holding on to the lead mess and thought it was in his team's best interest to try to move out in front by popping one from the left wing, no- THERE'S ZIMMERMANN WITH THE PUTBACK, out of nowhere! We're tied again! Kravish hits two free throws, but it's Zimmermann to the rescue AGAIN! This mo'fo has 22 points! Senior urgency was in full swing.
Sixty two all and five minutes to go. This game was more than living up to the hype. Cal had weathered poor decision making in the first half; Stanford had weather the Cal blitzkrieg in the second. This was assured to be decided on the final play of the game.
And then it wasn't. It didn't take Allen Crabbe long to put his team back on top, and that's where it all fell down like Kanye's second single off "College Dropout". Powell stared down his defender on the other end, eager to tie things back up, shot from the top of the key - just a tad long! If only Powell had followed his shot immediately (long shot, long rebound!), he might have been able to grab his own board because no man in white put a body on him. Powell realized he could get it, but it was too late; Jorge beat him to the punch and was off to the races, laying it in easily as Bright chose not to foul (good decision; no way Jorge would have missed a layup there had he been slapped in the arm - just way too much momentum). The lead grew to six after Crabbe made a couple of free throws. Then Jarrett Mann, feeling his time of meaningful basketball could be coming to an end, decided to be the hero - ball gets kicked out to him on the right baseline, goes up for the long two….
Whoopsies. Instead, the lead ballooned to nine, Arlington was getting murdered and I thought for sure Stanford was headed to the CBI.
"Come on, Kev, don't give up on us yet, bro!" Zimmermann said, still fighting hard on defense and - you guessed it- took a charge on Harper Kamp. Z told me a week ago there were two times he had gotten injured on charges drawn, it looked like that could have been No. 3 there for a minute.
"Yeah man, what Z said!" Randle hollered in support as he mean-mugged a three in from 23 feet out. "I'm puttin' this team on my back, tho!"
Sure did for a moment there, taking Crabbe's missed layup down the court all by his lonesome, tunnelvision set to a thousand, scored on a drive to cut it to four.
There was still plenty of time, too. Seventy-eight seconds, all that was needed was a stop, and Stanford could really put the pressure on. Cal wasn't in a rush, bled the clock out before the red numbers above the backboard forced the Bears' hand. Cal got a great look- sure-handed Kamp wide open from five feet on the left baseline, but he misses! Stanford gets the rebound!
But as the opening credits to the new TV show "Alcatraz" say, only that's not what happened. Brown must have been too physical with Kravish down low - I didn't see it happen, nor did I see a replay, so I can't help you out there. All I know is it killed Stanford's momentum, Kravish hit both, and once Stanford came up empty with a couple of missed threes by Robert Thurman and Richard Solomon - I mean the other 34 and three, in red - Stanford was toast; 77-71 your final tally.
Cal had control of this one for so long in the second half, but Stanford was always right behind ‘em until the final few possessions. Had I remembered the 76 sticker skit, though, I wouldn't have gotten my hopes up.
Let's go Stony Brook, Mississippi Valley State, et al. Those teams might be Stanford's only shot at a real postseason tournament. In my estimation, it's about 50-50. I'll look a little more in-depth at the field and report back.
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