When Cal fell behind by 14 with 8:17 left in the 2nd half I was frustrated less because Cal was losing, but more because it didn't feel like Stanford had been 14 points better than the Bears up to that point. Cal's defense had been frustrating the Cardinal most of the game, and the Bears were hitting enough shots to stay right with them. But Stanford decided to play Cal's game and broke the Bears in transition, and it looked like Stanford was going to escape with a double digit win that didn't reflect how well the Bears played.
But I should've known that the Bears had another run in them. There's a reason that this team has only lost one game by more than five points despite having faced three top 10 quality opponents. Cal again proved that they belong on the court with elite opponents and again came up just short of a season defining win.
The Bears were in a position to win because of the efforts of Brittany Boyd and Layshia Clarendon. Boyd kept Cal afloat in the first half by scoring nearly half of Cal's points, and Clarendon led the comeback by scoring 11 points after Cal fell behind by 14, including the final free throws to send the game into overtime.
Cal's offense stagnated in overtime, and that's the main reason the Bears couldn't pull it off. Full credit to Stanford, though - they realized that everything Cal was doing flowed through Clarendon and Boyd, and their guards ramped up the pressure just in time. Neither Boyd nor Clarendon found any space in the extra session, and too many possessions ended with low percentage jumpers.
It's a loss, but it's a loss that portends plenty of good things for the Bears. Cal can feel proud because they held Stanford to their 2nd worst offensive performance of the year. Only UConn held Stanford to fewer points per possession. Stanford shot just 36.5 from the field and turned the ball over 15 times. Only Chiney Ogwumike had an above-average offensive performance. Unfortunately for Cal her 33 points and 18 rebounds were the difference.
When I previewed the game I noted that Stanford only struggles when Nneka Ogwumike struggles, and sure enough Nneka only went 6-18 from the floor with 12 points. All credit to Cal's posts for their defense on Nneka. I want to say that Gennifer Brandon had the assignment most of the time, but the quality of Stanford's stream was not enough for me to say anything with much confidence.
If you're looking for the main reason Cal lost, it's free throws. Stanford shot more than double the free throws Cal did, and those extra 10 points might've made a pretty big difference. Considering how the game went, it's not really a shock that Stanford won the free throw battle - they had more success getting the ball inside than Cal did and pulled down more offensive rebounds. Cal helped them out with some bad fouls, particularly in the first half.
In the end, another confidence building defeat, which is a strange sounding phrase. Cal has made a pretty solid case that they are a tournament team, even probably a top 25 team. They have shown they have the talent to beat any team in the country. Now they need to turn that belief into actual wins. They'll have at least one more shot at Stanford to end the regular season. But for now the focus becomes locking down 2nd place in the conference.
Cal can't afford to slip up with huge games against USC and Arizona St. coming up. The Sun Devils are currently tied with the Bears for 2nd place and host Cal in Tempe. No rest for the weary.