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Bruised Bears fall to Stanford, NCAA tournament awaits

Recapping a literally and figuratively painful loss to Stanford, which automatically means grousing, griping and groaning ahead.

It was that kind of night in Seattle.
It was that kind of night in Seattle.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday night, Cal lost a heartbreaker to Stanford, and with it the Pac-12 tournament championship, 61-60.

And my goal with this post is to write it in a way that sounds as un-whiny as possible.

Why is that an issue? Because, in my opinion, Cal lost this game in part due to factors beyond their control. As a result, Stanford has now won another title, to go along with many other regular season and conference tournament titles. And it drives me insane when Stanford is both good and lucky.

So this is going to be a post that sounds whiny. If a fan of, say, Washington St. or Colorado or Washington women's basketball reads this post, they will likely roll their eyes at the audacity of a Cal fan complaining about not winning something and not getting a break, because we Cal fans have been extraordinarily spoiled over the last few years.

But Cal has still never finished ahead of Stanford in the Pac-10/12 regular season standings, and they have still never won a conference tournament title, or even beaten Stanford in the conference tournament. And so when Cal loses to Stanford in part because Brittany Boyd gets elbowed in the face hard enough to require stitches and misses 15 minutes of gametime (and never really looks effective for the rest of the game) I get annoyed. And when multiple wretched calls from charge-happy Pac-12 refs irrevocably alter the course of the game in the final 10 minutes, I get annoyed. And when all of these things happen in one game, and Cal loses that game by one point, and it's Stanford that benefits, I tend to rant.

And worst of all, it's impossible to hate Stanford women's basketball because their coach is a really nice person who also happens to be a super-genius, and their fans tend to be nice, and our players and their players do nice things together. But I'm a fan with all of the irrationality that come with the definition, and so when Cal loses to Stanford like that, I write rants like this. It's an illness.

This, of course, shouldn't detract from what Cal didn't do well and what Stanford did do well. Cal struggled to make their free throws, and Stanford did not. Cal struggled to get their transition game going, and Stanford did not. Cal made critical mental mistakes, and Stanford mostly didn't, and when Cal did make mental mistakes, Stanford quickly capitalized.

But again, Cal got very few breaks in the game and still only lost by one point. So let's complain about what didn't go Cal's way:

  • Brittany Boyd, human bruise magnet: Early in the first half, Boyd took what certainly appeared to be an inadvertent elbow/forearm hit from Brittany McPhee. You can kinda see from the picture above that it drew blood, and required her to enter the locker room to get stitches. She finally came back with about two minutes left in the half, but just never looked like herself. I'm sure she was playing through some amount of pain, and she took a few other shots that were probably not intentional but still irked Cal fans. It's really hard to not think that 35-40 minutes of Boyd without stitches swings this game from a loss into a win.

  • Reshanda Gray, human foul magnet: Reshanda Gray's 3rd foul came when she and (if I remember correctly) Amber Orrange chased a loose rebound. Orrange got to the ball fractionally before Gray, and of course when their bodies made contact with each other, Orrange was worse for wear. I personally would have preferred a no-call, but it wasn't a call that made me irate.

    No, what made me irate was the next call. Cal actually managed to get the ball in to Gray in the post, and she pivoted away from the defender to her right towards the basket. A secondary Stanford defender came in underneath her, with a foot in the restricted zone, and was awarded for it with a charge call on Gray. It was Gray's 4th foul, and by the time Reshanda returned the game was close to out of reach.

    For what it's worth, I wish Coach G would bring Reshanda back quicker in these types of games, but I understand that it's hard for Reshanda to play any defense when she's terrified of committing a foul. And I also recognize that Reshanda is her own worst enemy by committing bad fouls at other times in games, thus compounding the impact of the bad calls.

    But that doesn't make the bad calls OK. And Reshanda's offensive fouls are emblematic of a larger problem.
  • Charges, Pac-12 ref magnets: I hate charge calls. Sure, if a defensive player is standing stationary and a player just plows into them, it should be a charge. But I hate that it's a viable strategy to undercut offensive players constantly for the sake of winning the ball on a technicality. 

    A little while ago, the college basketball rules committee attempted to change the rules to favor aggressive offensive basketball by making it harder to draw charges. So, say if Mercedes Jefflo takes a pass from Brittany Boyd with a clear path to the basket, in theory it should not be possible for Lili Thompson to undercut her late and get rewarded with a charge by just standing there and not playing defense.

    In theory. I don't watch refs from other conferences, but I can tell you that the refs I see game-in, game-out, have made zero effort to favor the offensive player. And it seems to hurt Cal more than the average team because Cal is a very aggressive, dribble drive team that prefers to avoid settling for jump shots.

    With 4:23 left in the game, Mercedes Jefflo hit a bucket and was blocked in the process. It would have (should have!) cut Stanford's lead to 4, with a bonus free throw coming. It didn't, and Cal lost by one point.
OK, you're done reading the whiny part of my post. Credit to Stanford for elbowing their way past our Bears. Wait, that's still whiny!

Impressive offensive efforts from Courtney Range and Mercedes Jefflo* were overshadowed by Boyd's injury and the painful nature of the defeat. If you told me that Boyd and Gray would battle injury and foul trouble and have only a minimal impact, I would have told you that Cal would lose by double digits. But the Bears do have plenty of talent after their senior duo, and those players stepped up to keep this game close. It's a good sign both for the NCAA tournament and for next season, although I certainly don't want to be thinking about next year quite yet.

*If the Pac-12 gave out a 'most improved' end of season award, Mercedes Jefflo would have to be a prime contender for that title, right?

Now we have a week of waiting and wondering. This week, most of the smaller conferences will determine their automatic selections, and the women's basketball selection show will be on Monday, March 16 at 4:00 PT on ESPN. The talk amongst those in the know is that Cal didn't need to win this game to earn a top 4 seed and home court advantage for the first two rounds of the tournament. I hope that talk is accurate, but we won't find out until Monday.

This is a team that could use some rest and rehabilitation. Losing to Stanford is always painful, but this season isn't over by a long shot.