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Stanford survives trip to Berkeley, 84-81

Big review helps Cardinal avoid loss to hapless Bears

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Cal (5-16, 0-9) hasn’t won a Pac-12 game in a calendar year. They haven’t won any game since December. Still, they gave Stanford (11-10, 4-5) everything they could handle, leading for the majority of this one. The game was in doubt into the final seconds.

After a driving layup by Daejon Davis put the Cardinal up 2, Cal pushed the ball up the court, catching Stanford sleeping. Matt Bradley exploded to the hoop, meeting Josh Sharma in mid-air. Somehow the ball went in, and he was awarded a free throw for a chance to give Cal the lead with 14 seconds to go. That is, until the officials went to the monitor.

Upon further review, they determined that Sharma’s feet were outside the restricted area. Since the big man was set when Bradley launched into the air, and he maintained verticality, the call was changed to a charging foul. Cal’s points were wiped off the board, Sharma was un-disqualified, and the ball belonged to Stanford.

KZ Okpala split a pair of foul shots, giving the Cardinal just a 3 point lead with 13 seconds remaining. Stanford opted not to foul, but Cal couldn’t make them pay like Kansas did. The Bears confusedly passed the ball around the perimeter, before Paris Austin came free from thirty feet. The diminutive guard pulled up, holding his form as the buzzer sounded. The ball was some three feet off line.

Stanford once again put together a less-than-sterling first half. They shot 52% from the field and played decent half court defense, but their sloppy play was the real story. Their 11 first half turnovers were mainly live ball, allowing the Bears to score before the defense could get set. Cal attempted 8 more shots than Stanford in the half, and took a 1 point lead to the break.

No team was able to build a lead greater than 7 points. Each time a team got on a little run, the other would respond in kind. Cal found itself in an unfamiliar position, and responded like a 5 win squad.

KZ Okpala seemed to score almost at will, getting into the paint and finishing over whoever got in his way, even the 7’3” Connor Vanover. The sophomore scored a career-high 30 points, giving the Cardinal timely bucket after timely bucket. When Stanford found itself down 7 points with 6 minutes to go, Okpala and Bryce Wills combined to rip off a 10-2 run.

The Cardinal shot 57% from the field, yet almost squandered this one thanks to 18 giveaways. One bright sign for them was their foul shooting. They made 77% on the game, including 14 of their last 15. Struggles at the stripe have likely cost them a game or two this year.

Bryce Wills scored a career-high 16 for the Cardinal, on 6-7 shooting. The young guard has continued to look better and better in recent weeks. Daejon Davis added 14 points, battling through hard bumps to knock down critical shots in the final minutes. Cormac Ryan made his return to the court, scoring 7 points in 21 minutes.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the freshman Connor Vanover. He came in averaging just 4.5 points, but was huge for the Bears. The big man showcased a nice shooting stroke, scoring his 15 points from all levels, including 2 three point field goals. Cal was led by the 23 of Justice Sueing. Paris Austin added 15.

Stanford will travel to the Oregon schools next week, in a difficult but important road trip.