In the words of the great Bill Walton: “Every time the Bears tried to climb back up, the tree just shook off another layer.”
From start to finish, the Stanford men’s basketball team dominated the archrival California Golden Bears (15-8, 6-4 Pac-12), picking up a pivotal 80-69 road victory to start the second half of the conference season on a winning note.
Fresh off of an upset victory over then-No. 1 Arizona, Cal simply had no answer for Stanford’s attacking offense and stingy defense. With the win, the Cardinal (15-7, 6-4) moved into a tie with its cross-bay foe for third place in the Pac-12, as Stanford tries to ascend its way out of the middle of the pack during the second half of the conference season. The win avenged Stanford’s 69-62 defeat to Cal at home earlier this season.
Senior forward Dwight Powell had another banner night for the Cardinal following a 28-point effort on Saturday against Arizona State. Despite shooting just 5-of-17 from the floor, the all-conference performer from a season ago finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, tying his career-high in the final category for the fifth time. It was Powell’s seventh double-double of the season, which is best on the team.
“Dwight didn’t shoot the ball as well as he does, but he provided us with a presence out on the floor. Whether he is on the perimeter or the post, people have to pay so much attention to what he does,” said head coach Johnny Dawkins. “ He is capable of scoring himself, but he has shown that and he is one of the best players in this conference and I think he showed that again tonight.”
Powell certainly wasn’t alone on a night that saw the Cardinal put forth a complete team effort. Junior guard and birthday boy Chasson Randle, the second-leading scorer in the Pac-12, finished with 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting, while fellow senior guard Anthony Brown played a terrific second half that saw him score 11 of his 16 points.
In defeat, Justin Cobbs was again outstanding for Cal, which has now dropped four of its last five games. The senior point guard scored 24 points while adding five rebounds and four assists. Aside from a strong second half by Cobbs’ backcourt mate Tyrone Wallace, who tallied 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting, Cal failed to receive meaningful contributions from most of the rest of its roster. The other nine Golden Bears who entered the game combined to shoot an abysmal 10-of-34 from the floor, a brutal 29.4 percent clip that did not get the job done in a rivalry game of this magnitude.
While much of Cal’s struggles can be attributed to poor shooting, credit is due to the Cardinal, which played intense, stingy defense for large stretches of the game. Stanford held Cal to just 41.3 percent shooting overall, making it the fourth straight game in which the Cardinal held a team to 42.1 percent shooting or worse.
On the strength of its defense, Stanford raced out to an early lead thanks to strong play from Powell and Randle, who combined to outscore Cal 22-20 over the first 14:30 of the game. Stanford’s lead was at its largest — 18 points — when Randle knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Cardinal a 38-20 advantage with 6:36 remaining in the first half.
The Bears made things interesting by dominating the rest of the first half, mostly thanks to a 12-point explosion by Cobbs over the final 5:15 of the period to draw Cal within six at the midway point. His back-to-back 3-pointers on the final two possessions of the half made it seem as if the Bears had awoken from their hibernation, but it was not to be for California on this night.
Stanford’s lead remained in single digits for the first 10 minutes of the second half, until the Cardinal held the Bears scoreless for a four-minute stretch to push its lead to 13. Cal would never again get closer than 11 points, and Brown’s heady play down the stretch for Stanford ensured that the Cardinal would be able to coast to victory.
“They closed the half with two 3-pointers and cut the lead to six,” Dawkins said. “I was like ‘where is my team,’ and I found out a lot about us. I found out that our guys have a lot of substance to weather that storm, come out and regroup. That says a lot about their character.”
It was Stanford’s second consecutive win in Berkeley following an 83-70 triumph in Haas Pavilion last March 6. The win pushed head coach Johnny Dawkins’ career record on the road in conference play to just 15-34, but Stanford has been much tougher away from Maples this season. The Cardinal now stands at 3-2 on the road in the Pac-12 during its current campaign moving into road games at Washington and Washington State next week.
Most importantly, the win over Cal gives Stanford its fourth victory over a team ranked in the top 50 of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), a pivotal statistic used to determine which teams will make the NCAA tournament. Coach Johnny Dawkins, now in his sixth season at the helm of Cardinal basketball, is still seeking to lead Stanford to the tournament for first time in his career as head coach.
Contact Daniel E. Lupin at delupin ‘at’ stanford.edu.