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Cal offense stagnant in loss to Stanford

Bears struggle against the zone, commit 20 turnovers

NCAA Basketball: California at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Outside Maples Pavilion, the rain continued to fall late into Friday night. It wasn't much prettier inside for the California Golden Bears. Cal committed 20 turnovers, often looking lost on offense, in a 73-68 defeat at Stanford.

The offensive struggles are nothing new for the Bears this season. Outside of Ivan Rabb and Jabari Bird, Cal cannot count on consistent production from anyone on the roster. Rabb and Bird once again did their part, combining for 39 points on 15-of-28 shooting. The rest of the team shot just 12-for-36, accounting for 29 points.

Cal needs another scoring option to step up. Starting guards Charlie Moore and Grant Mullins have shown flashes, but lack consistency. Big men Kingsley Okoroh and Kameron Rooks spent most of the night in foul trouble, and combined for just eight points and seven rebounds.

Most troubling is the lack of ball movement and high level of confusion this late in the season, especially against the zone defense. The Cardinal spent much of the second half playing zone, and the Bears could not find an answer. Over a nine-minute span, Cal was outscored 20-5, and the game slipped out of reach.

A key moment came early on when Rabb picked up his second foul at the 8:57 mark of the opening half. Cal led 22-16 at the time, but Stanford finished the half on a 23-12 run with Rabb on the bench. Even when Rabb returned in the second half, the Bears struggled to get him quality touches in the post.

Bird led all scorers with 23 points, including seven 3-pointers, and matched his career-high with nine rebounds. But he also committed a game-high six turnovers.

Let’s not sugarcoat it. This was a bad loss. At 18-8 overall and 9-5 in Pac-12 play, the Bears find themselves squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. At this point, every game is crucial, especially those against lesser competition. The Cardinal entered the night 12-13 on the season, and just 4-9 in Pac-12 competition. This was Cal’s first conference loss against a team outside the top three.

Entering Friday, Cal was projected as a 10 seed by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. This loss certainly complicates things. The good news is that the Bears have a chance for a statement win next week when 7th-ranked Oregon comes to town. That is something they’re currently lacking. Cal is 0-5 against the RPI top 25, and 1-6 vs. the RPI top 50, with the lone win coming at USC.

The Bears’ strength is their lack of “bad” losses. Even including Friday’s defeat at Stanford, Cal is a perfect 14-0 against teams outside the RPI top 100. But that alone may not be enough to get them in the tournament.

The home stretch is officially here. Just four games left in the regular season. It’s time to find out what this team is really made of.