As is sometimes the case in sports, what’s ahead is more important than what just happened.
For Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball, it really can’t be any simpler than that.
If there is any lesson worth learning from recent history, it’s that the winner of the conference tournament, which tips off today in Los Angeles, is the only sure bet to be celebrating on Selection Sunday. And, at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious favorite to seize that assured bid.
No. 2-seeded Cal, which held first place for much of the regular season, appeared poised to be one of the tournament’s favorites. But down their final stretch, they’ve looked anything but.
“We haven’t lost two games in a row all year long,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “We have now.”
Cal lost its final two regular-season games, missing out on the conference title and the tourney’s No. 1 seed. Before being bullied by Stanford in a 75-70 loss on Sunday, the Golden Bears dropped a 70-57 road game in Colorado the week prior.
“Nothing is guaranteed, especially when you come out and play soft like we’ve been playing,” Cal’s Harper Kamp said after the emotional Stanford loss. “And right now, our new season is the Pac-12 tournament. We have a chance to win that. And that should be our focus.”
But the importance of what will transpire today at the Staples Center in Los Angeles has not been lost on the other Bay Area team. Seventh-seeded Stanford will take the court today against an opponent they’ve vanquished before this season, 10th-seeded Arizona State. And should Stanford prevail today, they’ll encounter Cal on Thursday and hope to pull off an upset — again.
“We’re playing with nothing to lose,” Stanford senior Andrew Zimmermann said, knowing that his team has no chance of securing an at-large bid should they fall short this week. “We know, going down to it that we have to win the tournament. We have depth, we have talent, and as long as everybody plays like they did [Sunday], we’ll have a good shot.”
But Sunday’s upset win was the final page in a season scripted with inconsistency. As Stanford has topped good teams in Colorado and Cal, they’ve slumped against lowly Utah. Yet, Sunday’s win is something the Cardinal’s coach is banking on to lift his team.
“I think we realized just how good we can be,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. “That’s something that you can only gain from having an experience like this. I think it will go a long way for our guys.”
WHERE: Staples Center, Los Angeles
STANFORD: Faces Arizona State today at 6 p.m. (TV: CSNBA)
CAL: Faces winner of Stanford-Arizona State on Thursday at 6 p.m. (TV: CSNBA)