It’s safe to say that last weekend’s games defined the Stanford men’s basketball team’s year—a season that has featured more twists and turns than a Martin Scorsese movie. After upsetting 19-9 Colorado in a convincing 24-point win, the Cardinal put up a dud against a weak 6-22 Utah team, losing by one point in the last minute.
But despite the ups and down, when California rolls into town, everything that happened earlier in the season ceases to matter. Past matchups, current records, Pac-12 rankings and tournament positioning will be irrelevant.
This is an important game for Cal (23-7, 13-4 Pac-12), as they sit just a half game back of Washington for the Pac-12 lead. A win against Stanford (19-10, 9-8) and a Washington loss against either USC or UCLA would propel the Golden Bears to a regular season Pac-12 championship. In Stanford’s case, a win and a UCLA loss would move them into the sixth spot in the conference, and the chance to exact revenge against Utah. While a lot rests in the balance for both teams, the biggest thing on the line is pride and a year’s worth of bragging rights.
The two teams met up for the first time on Jan. 29 in Berkeley, where Stanford put up a disappointing road effort. Despite being down just three points with 8:36 remaining, the Card could not overcome the deficit, as Cal went on to beat Stanford by a final score of 69-59. Sophomore guard Allen Crabbe led a very balanced Cal attack with 18 points, and three other Bears finished in double figures. Senior guard Jorge Gutierrez pitched in with a solid-11 point, 12-rebound performance of his own.
Stanford had one of its worst offensive performances of the season, failing to score more than 60 points and shoot over 40 percent. The Card will need to improve its offensive efficiency if it wishes to upset a talented Cal team at Maples Pavilion.
Cal, coming off of a disappointing 70-57 loss to Colorado that saw its Pac-12 regular season title hopes take a serious hit, will be looking to end the season with a statement win against their rival. Their trio of guards will play a major role, as they are the top three scorers on the California roster. Crabbe leads the way, averaging 15.2 points per game. The 6-foot-6 guard is also an underrated threat down low, posting a respectable 5.7 rebounds per game this season.
Both Gutierrez and sophomore guard Justin Cobbs are averaging 13 points per game, just off Crabbe’s pace. Cobbs, a transfer from Minnesota, has been Cal’s best distributor this season, dishing out five assists per game. He has largely contributed to Cal’s balanced scoring attack, but he is also the most efficient scorer of the trio, shooting 49 percent from the field. Stanford will need to slow down Cal’s backcourt if it wishes to thwart its rival’s chance of bringing home a Pac-12 regular season title.
The Card has no reason to feel overwhelmed, as it features two very solid guards of its own in freshman Chasson Randle and sophomore Aaron Bright. The young pair has led Stanford this season, with Randle averaging 13 points and Bright 11. They will have the daunting task of slowing down the Cal backcourt.
Senior forward Josh Owens is Stanford’s biggest advantage. Owens, the Cardinal’s second leading scorer on the year, poses the biggest mismatch for the Golden Bears, as they do not have a player who can rival his skill and athleticism on the post. He will need to come up big if Stanford wishes to pull off the upset.
The underdog Cardinal welcomes the Bears into Maples Pavilion at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 4.