There are plenty of details we can dive into regarding Cal's loss to Stanford, and we'll get into those eventually. But let's start with something simple: Chiney Ogwumike was the best player on the court, and it's really hard to win when the other team has the best player playing up to their full potential.
When Chiney gets the ball, there isn't a player on Cal's roster who can adequately defend her one-on-one. On Thursday, Cal came in with a great game plan to deny her the ball. She converted most of the touches she got, but the Bears did a great job limiting the opportunities she had.
That didn't happen on Sunday. Whether it was Tara Vanderveer drawing up new wrinkles, or Stanford simply executing better (those back door cuts were damned near unstoppable), the result was Chiney getting the ball early and often, on her way to 29 points. The only way to stop her are contact lens related mishaps.
Cal wasn't likely to be able to match her possession for possession on offense, and it's unfortunate that Cal got another great game from Brittany Boyd and a brilliant performance from Mikayla Lyles on a day that Chiney couldn't be stopped.
Of course, Chiney had some help from a typically poor women's basketball reffing performance. In case you tend to focus on men's basketball, know that the quality of women's basketball referring is generally on a lower level than the men's game. The tone was set early when Chiney drew a charge call on Brittany Boyd when she was moving way late as the help defender with her feet on the restricted circle. It never got better all game long.
We've talked in the past about how this Cal team needs a number of things to go in their favor to have a chance to play with Stanford. One of those things is reffing. It very much didn't go Cal's way Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately, another major factor that needs to go Cal's way is shooting. That didn't happen. Boyd and Lyles were a combined 13-24, while the rest of the team went 10-37. It's not a lack of effort, but to win a game like this Cal needs their key players all playing well at the same time. Afure Jemerigbe, Reshanda Gray (foul trouble again, sigh) and Gennifer Brandon were all off, and it's really hard to keep up with Stanford's offense when that's the case.
I do think that Cal brought the same level of intensity that saw them nearly come back on Thursday. Unfortunately, the other factor in Cal's run was Stanford's shocking lack of intensity, and it was a pretty sure bet that TVD wasn't going to let that happen again. Sure enough, Stanford played with the intensity to match Cal. It's really hard to win a game just based on pure desire. I'm impressed at how close Cal comes, but wanting it more just isn't quite enough all the time.
In my weekly column I said that I thought Cal turned a corner in terms of their effort level and recognition of what they need to do to make things work offensively. I still think that's the case. I think if the team that struggled to beat Oregon, Colorado and Utah showed up this week, they would have lost both games by 30. This team is playing better basketball than they played earlier in the Pac-12 schedule. Unfortunately, better basketball isn't necessarily enough against Stanford. You need best basketball.
I'm still optimistic. Cal twice played Stanford better than just about any team in the conference. I think that Cal is still the 2nd best team in this conference, and that they'll prove it over the next four weeks. I think that maybe Mikayla Lyles stated her case for more playing time, and that should help space Cal's offense and keep opposing defenses honest. I think no other team in the Pac-12 can take away Reshanda Gray like Stanford.
I think Brittany Boyd is amazing.
I think Chiney will never come to Haas again.
I think Cal will have the two best players in the Pac-12 next year.