- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
- 0 Shares
STANFORD, Calif. -- Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb has tapped Tara VanDerveer's basketball brain on more than one occasion.
One question she has asked the Hall of Famer, for example, is how VanDerveer has always been so good at making opposing teams uncomfortable, taking away the things they do best?
And then on Sunday, Gottlieb's Bears used that advice against the No. 5 Cardinal.
Cal took Stanford out of all of its happy places, owning the paint, cutting off Chiney Ogwumike's scoring, strangling the perimeter, harassing ballhandlers. And ultimately, that took the Cardinal out of their biggest happy place of all -- Maples Pavilion.
The seventh-ranked Bears came away with a 67-55 victory that ended the Cardinal's Pac-12 winning streak at 81 games, and handed Stanford back-to-back home losses for the first time since the 2000-2001 season.
It was more than a statement win for the Bears, but also a true shift in the balance of power in the Pac-12 for the first time in more than a decade.
"It's fun to see our players celebrate," said Gottlieb, who was an assistant in 2009 when Cal was the last team to beat Stanford in conference play. "We've won a lot of games, but maybe not that celebration game. And I do think it puts us in a different class."
For Cal (12-2, 2-1), this win can be both a ticket to a Pac-12 title and an immeasurable psychological lift. The Bears want to be considered Stanford's elite equal so badly they practically wear it on their jerseys. Now, after a 1-1 split this week in which both teams won on the road, the Bears have their wish. They are every bit as capable of winning this conference title as Stanford. They are for real as a national power with experience, depth, strong inside-and-outside play. Beating Stanford legitimizes Cal in a way few other victories can.
"The way it feels for us speaks to how good Stanford is and their consistency of excellence," Gottlieb said. "These players always knew we could win, we always play like we can, but to actually do it, I hope this gives us a boost of confidence going forward."
Sophomore guard Brittany Boyd led Cal with 19 points. Gennifer Brandon, Layshia Clarendon and Mikayla Lyles contributed 14 each to an offensive effort that was good enough. The Bears shot less than 30 percent for the game, but owned the day on the defensive end.
Cal forced 16 Stanford turnovers, thoroughly disrupted the Cardinal's offensive flow, kept Ogwumike from taking over and held Stanford at arm's length in the second half after building a 39-31 halftime lead, adding to the lead rather than allowing the Cardinal to cut into it.
Five days after losing at home, Cal came out and won on Stanford's home floor in commanding fashion.
"Knowing you can win, you have that confidence," Boyd said. "When you are only hoping you can win, you are timid. When you know for sure, you have that extra confidence, and we showed that today."
Gottlieb said she thought the home-and-home scheduling -- an effort by the Pac-12 to condense the schedule -- worked to her team's advantage.
The Bears watched the first game as a team, from beginning to end, complete with popcorn and candy, and had an immediate frame of reference for how they could improve.
"We needed to play faster, play better and our players really bought into those messages all week," Gottlieb said. "In some ways it's like a pick-up game and it's like, 'OK, let's run it back.' It helped us, in this case."
Gottlieb said she was thrilled for her seniors to get their first win at Maples, but she wants her younger players to feel a little something different.
"I want them to think, 'This is what you do when you come here. You compete to win,'" Gottlieb said.
Three weeks after Connecticut ended Stanford's home-court winning streak, Stanford (14-2, 3-1) is searching for answers again. Right now, the Cardinal are a team that can look gritty one day, but limited by their reliance on one star player on another. It's not a great place to be at the season's mid-point.
Ogwumike finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, but only junior guard Toni Kokenis was able to pitch in with double digits, adding 12. The rest of the lineup contributed just eight field goals.
"Chiney is a great player, and is a great leader," VanDerveer said, "but we need more help."
Cal has the size and depth inside to bottle up Ogwumike, and when Ogwumike isn't working her magic inside, the Cardinal come to a stop on the offensive end.
"Our best defense on Chiney may have been our defense on the guards," Gottlieb said. "They are a good offensive team, and when you let them do what they want to do they are a mosaic. The best blueprint for stopping that, obviously, was Connecticut."
Perimeter shooting, a Stanford staple, has been spotty in big games of late -- the Cardinal are 11-for-58 from beyond the 3-point arc since the Connecticut loss. The ball is moving slowly around the perimeter, the shot clock running out too often.
"It's kind of like how are we going to score?" VanDerveer asked. "The only answer I have is to work ourselves out this."
Ogwumike called it a "character-building year" for the Cardinal.
"We will just have to see each day who is willing to step up," she said. "This experience will make me a better player for the next experience. We'll see."
VanDerveer said the coaching staff knew this was going to be a tough year, with the loss of Nneka Ogwumike and a number of complementary players assuming larger roles. Her team perhaps overachieved early, including the win at Baylor, and that might have given her players a false sense of, well, something
It's all painful reality right now.
Stanford will get back on the horse Friday night against No. 14 UCLA -- currently the first-place team in the Pac-12 -- and suddenly a run of three straight home losses doesn't seen unfathomable. That hasn't happened since VanDerveer's second season at Stanford in 1986.
VanDerveer said her program has been hoping for an upgrade in the Pac-12 for a long time.
"We beg and beg and beg for the Pac-12 to get players and step up," VanDerveer said. "This is a good thing in a bad way for us."
18dBonnie D. Ford