When it rains, it pours.
Nothing has been going right for Cal men’s basketball as of late, and Tuesday night’s matchup against Stanford was a troubling continuation of the Bears’ struggles. Wins over rivals always feel sweet and can bring with them a valuable morale boost, but losses, conversely, sting just a little bit more.
The Cardinal ended up on top of a 57-50 defensive battle that should leave Cal hurting and searching for answers. After a promising start to the season that included a 7-4 nonconference record and a 2-1 start to Pac-12 play, the Bears have now lost eight straight and will enter their next game having gone over a month without a win.
Welcoming fans back into attendance for the first time in 2022, the Cardinal came out energized, but the Bears managed to weather an early storm and turn the first half into a back-and-forth grind. Stanford held a narrow 21-20 lead at halftime, but it was one that they never surrendered.
The blue and gold put together a strong defensive performance, but it was outdone by an even greater challenge to get things done on the offensive end.
The biggest reason for this was likely the absence of the Bears’ star forward Andre Kelly, who was out with an ankle injury and on the sidelines in a walking boot. The team will need him healthy if they want to break their losing streak anytime soon.
The Bears kept it close throughout the game, but with losses mounting, moral victories don’t seem to be enough any more.
“It’s not about getting close,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox. “We gotta start closing the deal and eliminating the mistakes that are still so costly.”
There have been common themes to the Bears’ eight losses. Five of them have come from losses against teams ranked in the top 15 in the country or higher, which is perhaps understandable, because — given the team’s recent history — expectations weren’t high for Cal to compete with the nation’s best just yet.
Less forgivable has been the Bears’ abject failure to win on the road. The Bears remain winless away from Haas Pavilion, with an 0-9 record overall, and five of their eight losses during the slump have come in visiting arenas. Cal is a shocking 2-30 on the road in the three years since Mark Fox took over as coach.
The Stanford loss was another such disappointing road loss, and coupled with the fact it came against an archrival who isn’t particularly fearsome (as it’s currently sitting seventh in the conference) and further extended Cal’s losing streak, in many ways it feels like a new low point for the Bears this season.
Perhaps fortunately for the Bears, they won’t have much time to sit on the loss, as they will be right back in action Thursday and Saturday, taking on Washington and Washington State respectively.
And while in the long run sorting out their road woes and struggles against ranked opponents will be key for the Bears to become competitive again, the blue and gold are lucky in the short term to be facing two mid-table opponents at home — offering them an opportunity to snap their losing streak.
Cal can’t take these teams for granted though. The Huskies are led by the top scorer in the Pac-12, senior guard Terrell Brown Jr., who averages an impressive 21.7 points per game, and after a slow start to the season, have won six of their last eight. The Cougars are also hot, having won four of their last five, and are fresh off a 70-43 beatdown of Colorado. And most notably, if the Bears needed any added motivation, both teams defeated Cal in close games in January.
The Bears will have to maximize what they do well — stellar defense and capitalizing on home court advantage — and find a way to offer a stronger offensive showing than Tuesday’s letdown in Palo Alto if they hope to stop their slide.
Cal’s loss to Stanford raised some existential questions about the state of the program that are not easily answered and likely won’t be anytime soon, but with home matchups against the Washington schools, the Bears will at least be presented with a short term opportunity to snap their losing streak. If not, they may mark the continuation of what’s looking every day more like another long season for Cal men’s basketball.