STANFORD, Calif. -- In order for Mike Montgomery and California to take home the regular-season conference title for the second time in three years, the Bears would have to go through their most hated rival -- Stanford -- and a hostile Maples Pavilion on Sunday.
Instead, Cal was all but steamrolled by the Cardinal, 75-70, and finished the conference season tied with Oregon for second in the Pac-12.
The Cardinal (20-10, 10-8 in Pac-12) outmuscled and outhustled the Bears (23-8, 13-5), finishing the game with 20 points off of 15 Cal turnovers, committing 24 personal fouls and besting their 35.2 season three-point percentage by going 8-for-18 (44.4 percent) from beyond the arc.
"We just let them come out and outplay us and out-physical us and we just played really soft," said senior power forward Harper Kamp.
Kamp -- who finished the game with 19 points (6-for-11 shooting, 0-for-1 from three, 7-for-9 from the free throw line), seven rebounds, three assists and two steals -- didn't hold back in his assessment of his team, but he did have to hold back the tears during his post-game press conference.
"I don't know what kind of motivation you need for a game like that," Kamp said flatly of the team's performance. "I mean, playing for a championship, there's not much else. I don't know why we're not ourselves anymore, but we're not, so we've gotta' find a way."
The 'way' that the teary-eyed Kamp is hoping for is the path to the NCAA Tournament. The loss puts the Bears on the bubble, forcing them to have to play themselves into a postseason beyond the conference tourney.
"I'm not sure some of the guys knew how to handle what we were up against," said Montgomery. "To Stanford's credit, they came out and were extremely physical early and it really just kinda' got into our heads, if nothing else."
"We couldn't make cuts -- there was a lot of fouls," continued Montgomery. "I mean, we got into the double bonus really early, which they might have objected to, but it was just very, very physical and we were having a hard time doing anything."
The final five and a half minutes of the first half were a microcosm of the game for the gold and blue.
With 5:26 remaining in the first half, senior guard Jorge Gutierrez (8 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal) was called for his third personal, and first technical foul for being overly aggressive during a made Cal free throw shot by Kamp.
The foul forced Montgomery to pull Gutierrez from the game with the Bears down 30-19 and playing more like a team in the conference cellar than a team battling for a share of the Pac-12 title.
"Jorge gets two, really quick [fouls] and then he has to come out," Montgomery said. "But we're just struggling without him, so I put him back in, and he gets a technical -- he gets a third. So I gotta' take him out."
Without arguably their best player on the court, the final 5:26 became a revival for the Bears. After shooting 5-for-20 from the field, Cal went 6-for-10 down the final stretch to finish the half down by just five points, 39-34.
The second half began with a three-point make by sophomore swingman Allen Crabbe (20 points, 3 boards, 2 steals) to get within two points, 39-37, with 19:46 to go in the game. At the time, it appeared that the Bears had finally gotten their feet under them and would make good on their expectations for a share of the crown.
Over the next 5:45 of play, Cal went 1-for-9 from the field with three missed layups and two turnovers, as the Cardinal went on a 13-4 run to extend their lead by 11 points, 52-41, with 14:01 remaining.
With 8:47 remaining, junior forward Bak Bak's first personal foul resulted in an and-one free throw shot for Stanford forward Andrew Zimmermann. After the charity shot was sunk, the Bears were down by 13 points, 66-53, and seemingly done for the game.
As with the home stretch of the first half, Cal put together a 17-6 run over the next seven and a half minutes to get to within two, 72-70, with 1:11 remaining and Crabbe on the line. After Crabbe made one of his two free throws, a miraculous comeback looked to be in store for the Bears faithful.
But, Crabbe missed the second free throw and Cal wouldn't score again, as the Cardinal outrebounded the Bears 4-1 with two coming off of missed Stanford free throws.
Next up for the Bears is the Pac-12 Tournament, which begins on Thursday. If Cal expects to make any inroads to the NCAA Tournament, the Bears will have to fix the performances of the last two games - the first time Cal has lost back-to-back contests this season.
"I'm not sure [how we'll regroup before the conference tournament]," said Kamp. "My team just isn't focused enough. I don't think we realize what's on the line, and it's just not acceptable. Guys have gotta' put aside whatever else is going on right now, and realize that they've worked too hard to just let this slide."
"This is what we've been working for all our lives," continued the senior. "I don't see why you don't come out and just have fun and play the game you've been playing for so long, and play hard and play together, and we're not doing that."