Although the extreme rainfall and high winds in the Bay Area may at first seem heralds of woe to usher in the new year, this was certainly not the case for Cal men’s basketball. As the wind blew and the rain fell and the county continued to issue flood warnings, Haas Pavilion welcomed a downpour of its very own.
Friday afternoon was splash mountain for the Bears on the hardwood of the Pete Newell court, playing against none other than their Cardinal Bay Area rival. If onlookers thought that the exceptionally uncharacteristic 58% the Bears shot from the field against Utah was a one-time occurrence, the blue and gold certainly proved them wrong come the Stanford matchup.
From the moment of tipoff, it was clear that the basketball gods were on Cal’s side. Shooting a ludicrous 73% from beyond the arc — a place where the previously 0-12 team struggled the most from — and nearly 60% overall, Cal undoubtedly got the atmospheric memo and rained on whatever parade the 5-9 Cardinal had coming into the game.
Fueled both by the rivalry and by an all-too-familiar desire to prove itself, Stanford refused to back down, and its ultimate defeat was certainly not for lack of trying. The game remained relatively close until the midway point of the second half, when Cal’s perimeter savviness proved simply too much for the visiting team to handle. The man of the hour — with leading scorer Devin Askew still on the bench with a foot injury — was graduate DeJuan Clayton, who shot 6 for 8 from downtown and led the team with 26 points.
“We’re coming together at the right time,” said Clayton. “We learned how to play with each other and we’re just gonna keep going from here.”
One would certainly think that the start of conference play is not the most fitting time to learn to play with one’s teammates, but for Cal fans, it’s better late than never. The Bears’ performance at the line propelled them to victory, but the catalyst for the three-point extravaganza in Haas Pavilion was none other than offensive execution.
Rarely do open threes present themselves, and in the case of the Cal-Stanford matchup, the Bears did everything in their power to ensure open shots against a relatively weaker Cardinal defense.
“We were preparing very hard all week to make sure we won this game. We had a way better offensive game this year. Our preparation got us here,” said sophomore forward Sam Alajiki. “This is a completely different team. Everyone can feel it. Once we get Devin (Askew) back, it’s gonna be another level.”
A different team indeed — the Cal team that took to the floor of Haas Pavilion on Friday afternoon was certainly not the same as the 0-12 one fans saw not so long ago. A departure from the once-stagnant ball movement that stymied the Cal offense, the rivalry game saw Cal run several split action looks, successfully getting the ball into the post and kicking it out to an open sharpshooter.
It’s important to note, however, that a rivalry does not a formidable opponent make. Not yet securing a single conference victory, Stanford currently sits at last place in the Pac-12 standings, and the Bears need not break their arms by patting themselves on the back over a victory — however rare those seem to come by — over this Cardinal team.
As conference play continues, fans wonder if this current Cal team is merely a case of a broken clock being right twice a day or if, perhaps, the clock is finally being repaired.