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A victory over Cardinal could be Cal’s ticket to the tourney

By Jared Green Daily Planet Staff
Saturday February 17, 2001

As always, the joint will be rockin’. As always, both teams will be fired up. But Saturday’s showdown between the Cal and Stanford men’s basketball teams at Haas Pavilion marks the return of national significance to a rivalry that has been all too one-sided for quite a while. 

For the first time in several years, the Bears will go into game against No. 2 Stanford with more on the line than pride. They are currently in fourth place in the Pac-10, with the hated Cardinal looming at the top of the standings. The Bears could cement a spot in the NCAA Tournament with a victory on Saturday, which would provide the one thing missing from their resume: a win over a top-10 opponent. 

The Bears’ biggest victory so far this season is the 29-point whipping they gave UCLA at Haas three weeks ago. That win has started to look increasingly impressive, as the Bruins have gone on to beat the then-No. 1 Cardinal and No. 8 Arizona. But Steve Lavin’s bunch have been wildly inconsistent, so beating them badly looks less important.  

Cal’s other “quality wins” have come against Georgia, South Florida and the bottom feeders of the Pac-10. For the Bears to lock up a spot in the tournament, they need at least one more big win, over Stanford, Arizona or either of the SoCal schools, and avoid any upsets from the bottom of the conference. 

The Bears head into Saturday’s matchup on a roll, having won six of their last seven games. Of course, the Cardinal have only lost one game all season. So who has the edge coming into the game? Cal head coach Ben Braun won’t say. 

“We had won some games heading into our last game (with Stanford, an 84-58 loss), and people said it’s a good time to be playing them,” Braun said. “I really think it’s about what you bring into the game and how you adjust during the game. I don’t think it matters what you did before.” 

The Bears will be playing in the friendly confines of Haas Pavilion, where they are 11-1 this season. If the crowd can duplicate the frenetic energy they displayed in the UCLA game, it could sway the momentum to the Bears.  

Then again, the Cardinal have played through pressure all year, pulling out close wins over Duke and USC. Point guard Michael McDonald has a stellar 2.6-1 assist-turnover ratio, and his calm demeanor has helped his team through several close games. Unless the Bears can pressure him into turnovers, it could be a long game for the Bears.