BERKELEY — As the final seconds ticked off the clock at Maples Pavilion on Jan. 19, the Cal and Stanford men’s basketball teams appeared to be headed in opposite directions. The Cardinal snagged a crucial win and seemed poised for a turnaround, while the Bears continued to sink, dropping their seventh game in 11 outings.
But Cal’s season took a 180-degree turn soon after the 69-59 loss and when the teams take the floor at Haas Pavilion for tonight’s rematch, the Bears will be playing for a chance to win a Pac-12 Conference title.
“The Stanford game was definitely a catalyst,” coach Mike Montgomery said.
Prior to the season, the media picked the Bears (20-9, 12-5) and the Cardinal (17-13, 8-9) to finish third and fourth in the Pac-12, respectively. But when the squads hooked up in mid-January, both teams were struggling to find identities with 10-6 and 10-7 records.
At the time, Stanford ranked dead last in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage and three-point shooting, despite featuring the same backcourt that scorched the net during last March’s NIT Championship run.
But the Cardinal took control of the game in the second half and the Bears season looked like it was circling the drain as they walked off the floor.
“We are a different team,” forward David Kravish said. “Our energy and effort are a million times better than the last time we played Stanford.”
Now, Montgomery’s team has won nine of its last 10 games and they could snag the conference title with a win and losses by Oregon and UCLA over the weekend.
The Bears’ turnaround was fueled by defense and the addition of secondary scoring from Richard Solomon, David Kravish, Justin Cobbs and Tyrone Wallace.
The Bears bench also received a boost when Brandon Smith returned from concussion symptoms on
“Depth was already an issue for us and [Smith’s injury] really put us in a tizzy,” he said. “We just didn’t have the ability to substitute at all and I think that caught up to us.”
As the Bears skyrocketed up the standings, Stanford continued to sputter. The Cardinal are still at the bottom of the league in field goal percentage and despite a deep bench, they can’t seem to find any consistency.
But Stanford spoiled Cal’s bid for a conference title in the final game of the season last year, so the Bears aren’t looking past tonight’s contest.
“Right now, the focus is on Stanford,” Crabb