On a sleepy Wednesday night in the East Bay, with rain drops calmly falling from the sky and a biting breeze whipping from west to east, instead of curling up with a good book, a cup of coffee and/or that significant other, thousands of people were about to partake in another edition of what the locals simply call The Big Game; Stanford vs. Cal in Haas Pavilion.
(OK, before I actually talk about the game, I need to have a discussion with someone in the Cal athletic department. Whenever I go into a new arena, one of the first things I do is look around and try to find the banners and the retired jerseys. Going into Haas Pavilion, I just knew that there would be a decent assortment of memorable Cal players whose numbers have been placed into the rafters. However, as soon as I craned my neck to look above, I only saw four men up there with a number retired.
Jason Kidd. Kevin Johnson. Alfred Grigsby, Darrall Imhoff.
Two of these people are a couple of the greatest point guards of all-time. The other two people I've never heard of in my life, but I won't deny that they don't deserve their numbers to be retired into the rafters. However, who in the heck do they think they are in deciding that legendary basketball players like Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Lamond Murray, Phil Chenier, Leon Powe and maybe ... just maybe Ryan Anderson should have their numbers put up in those rafters.
Show some respect, and put those jerseys in the rafters. Asaptually.)
Watching Stanford and Cal play basketball against each other reminded me that these are 18- to 22-year-old kids playing hoops. A Cal team that had conquered the No. 1 team in the country (Arizona) on this same court just a few days ago looked like someone put the powdery stuff Chong Li put in Frank Dux's eyes in Bloodsport for the first fifteen minutes of the game.
So I figure, Stanford's a good team, I was reminded this team has a history of putting out dope teams, and this team looks like a poor man's version of Duke with their offensive sets (motion sets, court spacing, etc.) and defensive schemes (strong man defense, tons of talking, etc.) that they should be able to coast to an easy victory. Nope, not quite.
Stanford's Dwight Powell (a person I've decided is a poor man's Jeff Green), who was torching Cal early and often inside, decided that he wasn't going to touch the ball for five minutes. With a 15-point lead, Stanford stopped attacking the rim, settled for inefficient mid-range jumpers and their defense got sloppy.
Oh yeah, that's right....these are 18- to 22-year-old kids I'm watching.
Give a ton of credit to Justin Cobbs, the Minnesota transfer, for making the game interesting. While everyone on Cal was sleepwalking, the point guard decided to become a one-man wrecking crew offensively. 16 first-half points later, Stanford's lead was down to six and I was hopeful we'd have a competitive second half.
It's funny the things you'll hear during halftime. Since this way my first time at Cal, I was curious to hear what the alumni had to say about this team.
"Best thing about this team are those Jordan uniforms."
"This team is just good enough to be mediocre."
"I sure hope the wife DVR'd Modern Family."
Then I talked to Vince, a Cal alum of 22 years, he was awesome:
"Cal will always have a chance to bring quality talent to Berkeley, but between the coaching, athletic department support and the boosters, I don't know if we'll ever be elite. I don't care. I love Cal, and if we win a game here and there then it's another reason to be a proud alum ... besides, I hope we kick Stanford's ass."
God bless you Vince. God bless you.
Unfortunately, Cal couldn't get that mojo they had to end the first half to begin the second half and Stanford began to play mistake-free basketball. It reminded me of how Kansas City Chiefs play football; safe passes, a lot of ground-and-pound, and always avoiding the turnover. Nothing flashy, nothing highlight-worthy, but by playing this way they never gave Cal any hope. Is Stanford more talented than Cal? No. Don't forget, Cal beat Stanford by seven just one month prior. Cal just didn't have an answer on Wednesday night.
Stanford's 80-69 win was a reminder that these two teams are both pretty good. Dwight Powell should be a first-round pick. Justin Cobbs is probably one of the best players that 95 percent of college basketball fans have never heard of. We'll probably see both these teams in March Madness, but who knows if either team will really do any damage once they get in there.
I left Haas Pavilion smiling, even if the Cal fans weren't in the best of moods. It was like as soon as they all stepped outside, and the rain hit their faces, all was forgotten. How in hades can these kids be so carefree after the game? Oh yeah, they're 18- to 22-year-old kids. Just like the 18- to 22-year-old kids on that basketball court. They're unpredictable and you hardly ever know what you're going to get from them.
Thanks to The Big Game, Stanford and Cal made me feel young and old again, even if I'm 30 years old.