Cal-Stanford game has plenty at stake

It’s officially the halfway point in Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball play and both Cal and Stanford are within striking distance of the regular-season conference championship.

Cal (15-7, 6-3), which beat Stanford at Maples Pavilion 69-62 on Jan. 2, shocked the nation Saturday with a win over then-No. 1 Arizona 60-58 when senior Justin Cobbs hit a step-back jumper with 0.9 seconds left, sending the Cal faithful at Haas Pavilion into delirium.

Cobbs was named Pac-12 Player of the Week for his efforts, averaging 20 points and five assists in two games. In the upset victory against Arizona — Cal’s first over a top-ranked opponent since 1994 — Cobbs was clutch down the stretch, scoring 16 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, including the Bears’ final 12 points of the game.

“Anytime you have a highly ranked team coming in, you get a lot of energy and it was a tremendous atmosphere, and it’s what college basketball is about,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said during a conference call Tuesday. “It was a tough shot, and I don’t think anybody else on our team makes that shot. For Justin, I thought it was a good shot.”

Stanford (14-7, 5-4) nearly claimed a victory over Arizona last week, too, but came up short 60-57. The Cardinal did bounce back by defeating Arizona State 76-70. In the win, senior forward Dwight Powell matched his season-high with 28 points.

“I thought our guys played terrific for 35 minutes [against Arizona], but we had a spell there in the second half where we didn’t score and execute as well,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins aid. “I thought our kids showed a lot of character by bouncing back against Arizona State and not letting down after the tough loss to Arizona.”

In the first meeting between the Bay Area schools, Cal earned its first win at Maples since 2010. Tyrone Wallace led Cal that night with 20 points, with Cobbs chipped in 18. Center Richard Solomon — who is averaging 11.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game — added 14 points and 13 rebounds.

The difference was at the free-throw line, where Cal went 16-of-22 while Stanford made just 10-of-20. Cal leads the all-time series 144-116.

“I think Stanford is very good and I’ve said that from the get-go, and I’m not changing my tune on that,” Montgomery said.

For Stanford, the nine games remaining in Pac-12 play are not only pivotal for its chances at a berth into the NCAA Tournament for the first time 2008, but it’s also huge for Dawkins, as his seat on the Stanford bench has gotten hot. A win at Haas Pavilion can be the spark the Cardinal need.

“Of course it’s a hostile environment and they’re playing well and coming off a great win, and we’re going to have to execute very well if we want to be successful there,” Dawkins said. “This conference from top to bottom is very competitive, and this race is going to come down to the end. Everyone is capable of getting beat in this conference.”

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