After going 3-17 in conference play this season, the Bears enter the Pac-12 tournament as the last seed. Their road to a Cinderella run begins Wednesday when they take on sixth-seeded Stanford.
Our men’s basketball beat writers examine how far Cal can go in Las Vegas and predict who will run the table.
What does Cal need to do to upset Stanford and what is your prediction for the game?
Kabir Rao: The Bears must do what they haven’t all-season: limit turnovers. When a team turns the ball over, it’s hard to get set defensively and that’ll lead to easy buckets for players like Stanford’s Oscar Da Silva. He’s repeatedly haunted Cal, scoring more than 20 points in both meetings this season, and assuming he returns from a recent foot injury, the senior is poised to go off again. Prediction: Stanford 70, Cal 63.
Trilok Reddy: Cal needs to do exactly what it did last year: play a defensive oriented game and hit shots in the paint to space the floor. If Grant Anticevich and Andre Kelly can hit some shots in the post early and open up space for Matt Bradley, then the Bears will have a much easier time. Cal almost always plays well against Stanford so this game should be close either way. Prediction: Cal 63, Stanford 61.
Tom Aizenberg: Cal has to take and make a lot of threes. Three pointers are the new random element of basketball and for a team that lacks in talent, its best chance at winning will be through chucking as many threes as possible and hoping they go in. The Bears will also obviously need Bradley to be his usual self, if not better than that. No games have come easy for Cal and this one will be no exception. Prediction: Stanford 75, Cal 66.
Ethan Waters: Frankly, the Bears need to execute as a team for the full 40 minutes. They’re on the right track, as four different players notched double-digit scoring for the first time all season against Oregon on Feb. 27, but streaky shooting and defensive efforts have left Cal unable to surmount early deficits. Prediction: Cal 68, Stanford 66.
Which player not named Matt Bradley needs to step up for the Bears to make a run?
KR: Cal will need to score in bunches and who better to do that than Ryan Betley? The graduate transfer overcame a recent shooting slump to post one of his best outings of the year in the Bears’ regular season finale. If Betley gets hot from deep, like he did at the beginning of the season, then Cal could find the offensive boost it has been sorely missing.
TR: When Bradley was out with an ankle injury, Anticevich showed that he can step up and lead the offense. He can hit his shots, even from beyond the arc, and make his presence felt in the post. If Anticevich can have another great game against Stanford, then it will definitely give Cal a shot at the upset.
TA: Kelly is a prime candidate to give the Bears an extra push. He has been excellent towards the end of the season taking some of the scoring load off of Bradley. His post scoring and offensive rebounding will be key in this matchup if Cal wants a chance to win. He is the second-leading scorer on the team for a reason.
EW: Since Bradley returned, the interesting thing is that at least six other players on the roster have stepped up for a game or two in terms of scoring performance. In other words, anyone and everyone needs to elevate their game. Whether it be Kelly, Anticevich, Joel Brown, Jalen Celestine or Jarred Hyder is entirely up in the air, but rest assured that at least one of them will come out firing.
Who is your pick to be the last team standing in Las Vegas?
KR: Oregon. The Pac-12 regular season champs will ride the three-headed monster of seniors Eugene Omoruyi, Chris Duarte and LJ Figueroa to the top. Head coach Dana Altman’s squad possesses a level of experience that is unparalleled, and is clicking at the right time, having won 10 of its last 11 contests. In short, the Ducks have been there before and they’re going to get there again.
TR: USC. The Trojans have plenty of young talent and have been dominant all season, as they brushed off first-seeded Oregon a few weeks ago and showed their skill in the clutch against UCLA a few days ago to secure their 15th conference win. Their biggest challenge will be Colorado to whom they’ve lost twice this season.
TA: USC. Andy Enfield’s squad has been dominant throughout the regular season and I don’t see why that would change now. Future NBA draft pick Evan Mobley will do his best to show scouts he is the real deal on the Trojans’ path to victory.
EW: Colorado. The No. 23 team in the nation is projected as a five-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Given its performance over the last month, it’s no wonder why. The Buffaloes are riding a four-game winning streak which includes an 18-point victory over March Madness-bound USC and a 9-point win over UCLA. Their only true hiccup recently came on the road against Cal in mid-February. But since then, the Buffs have been rolling.