Cal, Bradley end Stanford's season in Vegas

A late run turns a close game into a 76-58 laugher as the Bears advance to take on Colorado at 8:30 tonight

Since halftime, Cal and Stanford played a taut, tense affair. The Bears had pulled ahead in the first half, stretching their lead all the way out to 9. But Stanford cut into the deficit and spent most of the first 14 minutes of the 2nd half trailing but just a possession or two. The game was on a knife’s edge the whole time:

Win probability chart - Cal more likely to win when the line is above the mid-point, Stanford more likely to win when the line is below the mid-point.

You see that low ebb in the chart on the far right? That was right after Stanford got a stop and held the ball down just one point. What happened on that possession? Matt Bradley happened:

What happened to Stanford when Matt Bradley happens? This:

Four minutes of game time and one 15-2 run later and the game was over. Some late game pointless fouling and hilariously unnecessary 3s pushed the final margin of victory all the way out to 18 points, Cal’s biggest win over a Pac-12 team in more than four years.

Bradley’s block will be remembered as the catalyst for the Cal run, but focusing on that singular play, spectacular though it was, might be missing the forest for the trees. A few weeks ago I wrote about another Matt Bradley special against Colorado. He did it to Stanford on Wednesday night, but in a different, more complete fashion.

Obviously there’s the block, and Bradley’s defense was certainly on point. But what stood out about Bradley’s performance was its completeness. Points, rebounds, assists, blocks - if there was something positive happening on the court, Cal’s best player was almost invariably involved.

His six assists tied a career high and included simple but smart passes like the assist to Betley immediately following his block or finding Kuany Kuany in the corner:

But it also included the spectacular, like his cross court bounce pass to find Kuany Kuany for the dunk:

And it wouldn’t be a Bradley game without a necessary dose of iso-3s:

Add it all up and you get a wildly efficient game - 19 points on just 11 shots, 6 assists to just 2 turnovers. For the second time this year I have the pleasure of decided that Matt Bradley just played the best game of his Cal career.

The other major storyline from the game was Cal’s improved defense and/or Stanford’s sputtering offense. Cal held Stanford to .88 points/possession, the lowest total Cal has allowed to a Pac-12 team all season long.

Is that because Cal played improved defense, or is it because Stanford’s offense has crawled into a hole and died ever since Oscar da Silva got hurt and missed Stanford’s last four games?

Da Silva was back on the court and played 31 minutes, but was clearly not himself on offense. Twice early in the game he attempted to get around Grant Anticevich and Grant stoned him both times. As soon as that happened I perked up and decided that Cal might stand a pretty good chance to win this one. Sure enough, da Silva ended the game just 3-10 on his 2 point shots and only totaled 12 points. For a team so clearly reliant on their best player playing his best, it was never going to be enough.

That isn’t to say that Cal didn’t do their part; holding Stanford to 39% on their 2 point shots is impressive even knowing how beat up the Cardinal are. Either way, one can’t help but assume that da Silva’s ineffectiveness was the key to the game.

These past four years have been a rough wander through the desert for Cal fans. But in an effort to be thankful for the good, let’s take time to appreciate that oasis that has been Stanford. Cal miraculously has a win over Stanford in each of the last four seasons, with a collective record of 5-6. Almost every loss Stanford has taken to Cal in this stretch has either ended Stanford’s season* or nuked their tournament chances, or both. During tough times, there are much much worse consolation prizes than kicking in the teeth of your rivals.

Stanford will have now missed the NCAA tournament 12 times in 13 seasons, a truly incredible feat for an athletic department as monied and a program as (previously) successful. Some may say that those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but baby I’m whipping around rocks like nobody’s business.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Golden State Warriors for inadvertently destroying Stanford MBB.

*This space considers Stanford’s season over regardless of whether the Cardinal accept a bid to the NIT.

Next up is Colorado, and as the Pac-12 network was very frequently reminding us, the Bears beat them just weeks ago. Of course, the Bears also got waxed (though sans Bradley) in Boulder and were riding a 1-11 stretch entering the Pac-12 tournament, which is to say that nobody truly knows what the future holds.

Colorado is coming off a four game win streak of their own, though three of those wins came at altitude in Colorado. As is almost always the case for the Buffs, in conference play they are one team at home (9-1) and another team on the road (5-5). Having said that, the Buffs have a pretty solid record in the Pac-12 tournament, so maybe the 2,000 feet of elevation in Vegas help the Buffs feel at home.

In short, it’s a tall order. Kenpom says an 11% chance of winning. But I’d rather be the one playing and not the one flying home. Go Bears.