Cal had to overcome so much to get this win. That they did doesn't necessarily mean that they're poised for a Pac-12 surge. But it does mean that this team has a bit of mental fortitude, and they will need plenty over the next three months.
Let's start off with the obvious: missing Jabari Bird and Ricky Kreklow is tough. Potential instant offense and potential instant defense, along with the ability to play small goes out the window. And it makes it very tough to survive when the whistles aren't going your way.
Which brings us to challenge #2. The refs called the game tight. I'm not going to get into the quality of the reffing because that just ends up sounding petty. But Richard Solomon and David Kravish combined for nine fouls despite playing 32 and 29 minutes respectively. Tyrone Wallace and Jordan Mathews also dealt with foul trouble. Conventional wisdom says that this team can't survive a tightly called game.
Cal had to overcome a veteran, confident Stanford team playing at home, secure in the knowledge that they had swept Cal a season ago. Cal had to overcome an early 12-4 deficit and they had to bounce back after a stunning six point possession turned a five point Cal lead into a one point Stanford lead with 5:45 left in the game.
And how did the Bears overcome all of that to earn a road win over the same rivals that had spoiled their season two years in a row? It took a crazy shooting performance from Tyrone Wallace. It took constant effort on the boards from Richard Solomon. It took valuable minutes from Christian Behrens, Sam Singer, Kameron Rooks and Jeff Powers.
And most of all, it took Justin Cobbs. Cal's best player, their senior leader, stepped up in the final five minutes of the game and willed the Bears to victory. Over the last five minutes, Cobbs scored nine points and had the assist of the night to Richard Solomon for a huge dunk (pictured above). After falling behind by two points, Cal closed on a 15-6 run, and 11 of those points can be directly attributed to Cobbs.
I have to talk about two plays in particular. The first is in the highlight package below: Cobb's runner in the lane, an awesome finish as he slices through four Stanford defenders. But my favorite play of the night? With 0:52 left and Cal up three, Johnny Dawkins inexplicably decides not to foul. So Cobbs calmly dribbles around for 25 seconds before initiating the offense, cutting straight to the free throw line and nailing a pull up jumper that essentially sealed the game.
There are so many players that deserve individual praise:
- Tyrone Wallace kept Cal afloat by himself early in the game with some big jump shots. Perhaps more importantly, he was active on defense the entire night and forced some huge turnovers.
- Richard Solomon showed that his early season rebounding numbers were not a product of inferior competition. 13 in total, none of them easy. His offensive game looked very polished as well despite the fact that Stanford appeared to consider him perhaps Cal's #1 offensive threat. He had 6'11 Stefan Nastic all over him and even warranted occasional double teams. Rather than force anything, he absorbed contact, drew fouls, and hit free throws.
- How about the bench? Christian Behrens looked fully healed and might be a contributor the rest of the way defensively. Jeff Powers also acquitted himself quite well despite Stanford being more aware of his shooting ability than Furman was. Sam Singer again showed solid composure. Cal won by seven. Cal's bench outscored Stanford's bench, 7-0.
GLORIOUS CHART OF VICTORY
I can't decide what this win means long term. While I was very impressed with how the Bears played, it's worth noting that Stanford hurt themselves with plenty of self-inflicted wounds. Stanford missed 10 free throws, including the front end of a one-and-one twice. Additionally, ESPN's play-by-play lists 13 missed Stanford lay-ups. While I do think that contests from Richard Solomon and David Kravish had something to do with missed bunnies, I think that Stanford's finishing was pretty poor. Between free throws, lay-ups, and bad Johnny Dawkins end game strategy, Stanford might argue that they gave this one away.
On the other hand, after four months of Cal athletics misery, the Bears stomped on Stanford on the farm and that's damned well worth celebrating.