By Ells Boone
In the first round of the 2021 Pac-12 Tournament, Stanford (14-13, 10-10 Pac-12) failed to get by its rival Cal (9-19, 3-17 Pac-12), falling in a 76-58 defeat in Las Vegas. The Golden Bears also beat the Cardinal in the first round of last year’s conference tournament.
Cal was led by junior guard Matt Bradley, who finished with 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field. Fifth-year guard Ryan Betley and junior forward Andre Kelly chipped in with 13 and 12 points respectively. Junior forward Jaiden Delaire paced Stanford with 14 points of his own.
Prior to the game it was announced that senior forward Oscar da Silva would be available for the matchup after missing the Cardinal’s previous three contests with a lower extremity injury. It was also disclosed that freshman forward Ziaire Williams would miss the entire Pac-12 Tournament for quarantine restrictions related to a death in the family.
Cal’s senior forward Grant Anticevich scored the game’s first points on a jumper. The Golden Bears would never relinquish the lead. Stanford’s offense struggled to get going, as the team did not score until the 15:33 mark when da Silva made a layup and was fouled.
The Cardinal cut the lead to three at the under-12 media timeout thanks to a pair of three pointers from sophomore guard Spencer Jones and Delaire. However, Cal did enough to keep a manageable lead.
The Golden Bears controlled the pace of play, running a methodical offense to slow the tempo of the game. Stanford struggled with this pace all night.
Cal took a 35-29 lead into halftime, which would have been larger had freshman guard Michael O’Connell not hit a mid-range jumper as the clock expired. Stanford shot 40% from the field in the opening period, while Cal fared better, shooting at a clip of 55%.
The Golden Bears started the second half strong, extending their lead back to eight, but the Cardinal settled in and fought back. Another three-pointer from Jones, a pair of free throws from Delaire and a layup from junior forward Lukas Kisunas cut the Cal lead to just three points at the under-16 media timeout.
That would be as close as the Cardinal would get for the next eight minutes. Stanford went on a 9-4 run and cut the lead to just one when da Silva hit a three pointer at the 6:53 mark. It looked like the team had finally gained some momentum and was ready to take the lead.
On the other end of the floor, Cal sophomore guard Joel Brown blew a wide open layup. O’Connell then found Kisunas for what looked like an easy dunk, but Bradley blocked the attempt and Betley hit a three for the Golden Bears to extend the lead up to four.
That was a huge turning point in the second half, and led to a huge downward spiral of events for Stanford. Cal would go on an 11-2 run to take a double digit lead. At that point there was nothing the Cardinal could do as their shots just stopped falling.
Named the Pac-12 Scholar Athlete of the Year earlier in the day, da Silva struggled to shake off the rust Wednesday evening, finishing with 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting from the floor. This very well may have been the last time we saw him suit up for Stanford after what was a great all-around career for the German big man.
The Cardinal’s season is most likely now over. The team essentially needed to win the Pac-12 Tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, and also probably needed to beat Cal to earn an NIT bid. Head coach Jerod Haase will now look to build for next season, with a promising core returning as well as the nation’s No. 15 ranked recruiting class set to replace da Silva and senior guard Daejon Davis.