By Sam McPherson

Losing by 20-plus points when you’re trying to make an impression in the national spotlight is certainly one way to get noticed—for all the wrong reasons. The Stanford Cardinal know this first-hand now, after losing to the No. 17 Utah Utes in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament, 80-56. As a result, the Cardinal will not be invited to the NCAA Tournament this year, and the team has only itself to blame for a late-season nosedive that took it from being ranked No. 25 in the coaches poll on January 19 to being forgotten on March 13.

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To add insult to injury for the Bay Area, the California Golden Bears lost for the third time to the No. 5 Arizona Wildcats on Thursday, too. The 73-51 loss wasn’t wholly unexpected, and it was the best effort for Cal against Arizona this season. Seeing both teams lose by so many points on the same day, however, was disappointing for local alumni and fans. Both the Bears and the Cardinal, therefore, have seen their regular seasons come to an end, and the teams will now await bids to the National Invitation Tournament. Cal (18-15) will be content with that scenario, while Stanford (19-13) probably will be disappointed. 

The Cardinal were once flying high with a 15-5 record, but a 4-8 finish to the season will leave a bitter taste in its wake. Against Utah, Stanford’s season was encapsulated perfectly. Ahead by five at halftime, the Cardinal proceeded to shoot 25 percent in the second half, making just six shots from the floor in the final 20 minutes of the game. Meanwhile, the Utes took advantage, shooting 8-for-12 from three-point range after the intermission to run away with the game.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins told the media postgame. “I always think we have a chance to win in whatever we play in. I thought we ran into a team that had a very, very hot second half—and it’s hard to overcome that—but I believe in our guys, and I thought we had a chance, and I thought in the first half we exhibited that and that we believed. In the second half, they came out with the determination and the level of physical play, and they were able to set a tone there, and it was tough for us to respond.”

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Chasson Randle put up 22 points for the Cardinal, while center Stefan Nastic added 11 points. No other Stanford player made a dent in the boxscore, as Utah out-rebounded the Cardinal, 39-24. Meanwhile, three different Utes scored at least 16 points in the game, as they buried Stanford’s NCAA dreams in the second half with a 46-point explosion.

The Arizona-Cal contest was also somewhat close at halftime, with the Wildcats leading the Bears by just six points. However, Cal struggled to hit shots the whole game, shooting just 34.4 percent, and Arizona methodically pulled away for the victory. The Bears did have a four-point lead at one point in the first half, but the Wildcats ended up with four players scoring in double figures while Cal guard Tyrone Wallace carried his team with 19 points.

“I think it was more of us breaking down offensively, not executing what we were trying to do as opposed to what they were doing,” noted Bears Head Coach Cuonzo Martin after the game. 

Both Cal and Stanford now play the waiting game to see what’s next. The Cardinal certainly will get a high seed in the NIT, while the Bears should be on the bubble for that event. If Cal isn’t selected by the NIT, there are two other possibilities for the Bears: The College Basketball Invitational and the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. 

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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.