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Stanford 69, Cal 59: Improved effort not enough

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The Bears drop to 1-4 in Pac-12 play as a bleak season gets bleaker.

Pretty much
Pretty much
Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

On Cal's first offensive possession, Jordan Mathews worked himself open for a jumper, but missed. Luckily, Kingsley Okoroh fought into position for an offensive rebound, and kicked it out to Tyrone Wallace, who missed a solid 3 point look. But Roger Moute a Bidias crashed the glass hard and had two decent put back attempts that he couldn't quite finish. However, David Kravish came down with another offensive board and kicked the ball out to Wallace . . . who promptly threw the ball out of bounds.

And the tone for the game was set. The Bears were going to put forth the effort necessary to win the game. Unfortunately, effort isn't always enough. If the other team is just as invested, you're going to need to hit enough shots. Cal shot 35% on their 2 point attempt and couldn't do nearly enough from the free throw line and from behind the arc to prevent Stanford from coming back to take the game.

For 35 minutes, Cal did enough scrappy things, and hit just enough shots - and Stanford missed enough - to keep the game in doubt. The Bears trailed 53-51, then watched Stanford go on a 12-2 run to ice the game. The primary culprit in Stanford's comeback? The interior play of Stefan Nastic and the three point shooting of Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown, who combined to shoot 8-11 from behind the arc.

This was easily Cal's best effort since defeating Washington to start Pac-12 play. Unfortunately, the effort came against what is clearly the 3rd best team in the Pac-12. For as much as we all love to make fun of Stanford for Johnny Dawkins' iffy in-game coaching and for having a bunch of goofy white guys, they also happen to have a clear first team all-confernce player in Randle and two excellent secondary options in Nastic and Brown. If you're looking for a silver lining, you might note that Stanford's best returning player next year will be Rosco Allen. But for now they're pretty good.

Such is the state of this team at the moment: losing to Stanford at home by 10 is indeed a solid effort compared to most of the last three weeks. If Ty shoots closer to his average, or if Randle and Brown are a little less dead-eye from behind the arc, this one could have swung Cal's way. That's minimal comfort at the moment.

Thoughts on individual players:

Jabari Bird saw his first meaningful action on his return from a stress fracture and looked pretty good but obviously rusty. He sank a couple threes and was obviously tentative about taking the ball to the basket and initiating contact. He rolled his ankle on one occasion, then passed up a clear fast break opportunity soon afterwards. It says volumes about Cal's offense that it improved upon his return even though he was so clearly not 100% back mentally. Hopefully he will be soon.

Tyrone Wallace just had a frustrating game, shooting 6-22 from the floor. Obviously it's going to be near impossible for Cal (or anybody, really) to win when their best player is shooting 27% on 22 shots. It's not like he was forcing up crazy shots - while I was watching I wasn't really thinking that he was having such a miserable game from the field, in part because he's been making shots like that most of the year. Hopefully with Jabari back we won't have to play as much Ty hero ball as a primary offensive option.

Jordan Mathews got a ton of defensive attention and had lots of trouble getting looks. That tends to be what happens when you average 24 points/game to start the conference season. Credit to him for knocking down a couple 3s when he actually got them.

David Kravish finally had an efficient game but only took 5 shots. Part of me suspects that we have to choose between a low-usage, high efficiency David and a high usage, low efficiency David. I guess I'd prefer the former, but neither is likely enough to lead Cal to many wins.

Sam Singer had exactly the type of Sam Singery game we expected coming in to the year - decent distribution, no major mistakes, and a pest on defense. I'll take it.

Kingsley Okoroh and Roger Moute a Bidias started, then barely played. I would like to see the King get more minutes, even if I recognize that he doesn't add a ton on offense and has his defensive lapses. I'd prefer those lapses to be ironed out this year rather than next year.

Dwight Tarwater played 30(!!!) minutes, which totally shocked me when I looked at the box score. On the other hand, he hit a couple corner 3s, looked surprisingly strong on the defensive glass, and wasn't a liability defensively because he could be stuck on whichever 4th or 5th option Stanford played that barely took any shots.

Christian Behrens picked up 4 fouls in 12 minutes. He gives up 3 inches and 20 pounds to Nastic, and worked very hard in an unwinnable situation trying to stop him without the help of a double team. I don't envy the assignment.

So: If Cal brings that type of effort and intensity the rest of the way, with a healthy Jabari, they'll beat some teams. Even some teams that they shouldn't beat. Unfortunately, those are both big ifs, and the roster is still obviously limited enough that there's no guarantee. But in what is clearly a rebuilding year, that's the type of stuff we'll be looking for. Your choices are either to tune out or look for the silver linings for next year.

Or just be really grumpy. After a loss to Stanford (that's five in our last six against the Robber Barons) I can't really blame anybody for that.