We make jokes about how Cal will lose games in the worst ways imaginable. And then, the team goes on an unreal winning streak, and the fans start to believe. It all culminates in a home game sell out against our rivals, and everybody is unironically talking about how confident they are that the Bears will finish the deal. As the game begins, a hated rival loses to keep the Pac-12 title door open.
And then that happens. The Bears play their worst game in two months, if not the entire year. Against Stanford. And then they get into an embarrassing fight when the game is out of reach. On national TV.
There's a reason that Cal fans are fatalistic.
It's the sequence that hurts. When Cal lost to Colorado, we all would have been thrilled to hear that the Bears would finish conference play on a 9-2 run. But the Bears had to save that last loss for Stanford, with everything on the line, one year after losing to Stanford, with everything on the line.
Stanford won for many reasons. They shot the lights out. They held onto the ball. They played better defense. They scored 81 points against a team that hadn't allowed anybody to score more than 69 since they started their streak.
The Bears, meanwhile, looked exactly like that other team that we had all forgotten. A team that gets frustrated offensively when their opponent pressures ball-handlers and doesn't give up easy looks inside. A team that loses men on defense. I will say that the effort was there, but at times it seemed counter-productive. Cal seemed to over-commit to help defense, leaving Stanford players open from 3 or to make cuts into the lane. Sure, Stanford shot the lights out, but they didn't shoot much better than you would expect when a decent college team is given open looks.
And then the fight. It's tough to predict what the Pac-12 conference will do, but if a single Cal player is suspended I'll be pretty angry. For one thing, the incident was initiated by Stanford. Aaron Bright elbowed Allen Crabbe in the knee while sitting on the floor, and then Dwight Powell bowled him over. I'm unhappy that Cal's players reacted to their mis-deeds to such a degree, but make no mistake - Bright and Powell lit the fuse. Both have immediately earned places in the pantheon of easy-to-hate Cardinal*.
Considering that only Richard Solomon was ejected (for leaving the bench) he would presumably be the only player in danger of suspension. If the Pac-12 suspends Solomon for leaving the bench while NOT suspending Tony Woods for an elbow into the head of Brock Motum, then this conference needs to seriously look at the rule book because that would be insane.
Ricky Kreklow is going to be a topic of conversation because he played 13 minutes and was on the floor for a decent portion of Stanford's run. I was too busy sobbing to really get a good sense of what he did or didn't bring to the floor, but anybody scapegoating him is, I think, ignoring a variety of other causes. In any case, Ricky was placed in an unfair situation because most of his time on the court was forced by serious foul trouble for both Richard Solomon and Tyrone Wallace, both of whom eventually fouled out.
If this game was a 5 point loss to, I don't know, Arizona State, we'd all feel sad, then immediately move on to Pac-12 and NCAA tournament talk. I'm still very confident that the Bears will be dancing, and I think they have as good a shot at winning in Vegas as any other of the very evenly matched top 9 seeds in this goofy conference. It's just a shame we had to go into it with this game, and that incident.
*Stupid non-pluralized nickname making my sentence look awkward.