Given the chance to win a share of its second Pac-12 Conference title in three years, the Cal men's basketball team didn't look the part Sunday.
"We haven't acted like a team that was in first place the last two weeks," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said after rival Stanford celebrated a 75-70 victory at Maples Pavilion.
As a result, Washington retained the outright Pac-12 title, and Cal (23-8, 13-5) was relegated to a second-place tie with Oregon. Stanford (20-10, 10-8) completed its first winning conference season in four years under coach Johnny Dawkins.
The teams could meet again as soon as Thursday at the Pac-12 tournament in Los Angeles. As the No. 2 seed, the Bears get a bye into the quarterfinals. No. 7 Stanford will face No. 10 Arizona State on Wednesday, with the winner advancing to face Cal.
Stanford's Aaron Bright made three free throws -- the latter two following offensive rebounds of his misses -- in the final 42 seconds to secure the win over Cal.
Dawkins was pleased his team found a way to close the deal against a league contender. Stanford was 0-5 previously against the Pac-12's top four clubs.
"This is the first time I felt we really took a step," he said. "Now I think they realize how good we can be."
Senior Andrew Zimmerman agreed, saying, "It takes beating the better teams to believe we belong in that category. We're playing with nothing to lose."
By contrast, the Bears looked like a team
Senior Harper Kamp said the Bears, who have lost two games in a row for the first time all season, need to figure out what has gone wrong.
"We played really soft. Not a single one of us was ready to play," Kamp said. "I don't know why we're not ourselves right now, but we're not. So we've got to find a way."
Bigger and deeper, Stanford came out aggressively, pushing the Bears around and building a lead that reached 15 points late in the first half. Cal rallied to within two points with 1:11 left in the game but played with little poise and precision.
"We looked nervous. We played nervous," Montgomery said. "At the end of the game with three opportunities to tie, we miss (four) free throws, fumble it out of bounds, fail to block out twice.
"If we make those plays, the pressure shifts a little bit. We weren't able to make those plays."
No one is struggling more than Jorge Gutierrez. The Bears' senior guard, who could be announced Monday as the Pac-12 Player of the Year, had three fouls in the first half, the last of them on an unsportsmanlike technical foul with 5:26 left.
Scoreless a week ago Sunday in the Bears' loss at Colorado, Gutierrez finished with eight points and four turnovers. But it isn't so much the points Gutierrez provides the Bears as it is the toughness and leadership. Right now, nothing's working for him.
"He's just really fighting demons right now," Montgomery said. "He's not able to get much done. He's frustrated. We need Jorge."
Zimmerman, who scored 13 points, said the Cardinal will be loose and confident in Los Angeles.
"We know we have to win the tournament" to earn an NCAA tournament bid, he said.
Cal, which got 20 points from Allen Crabbe and 19 from Kamp, appears to be on solid ground to secure an NCAA at-large bid. But Kamp said the Bears should understand nothing is guaranteed.
"Right now, our new season is the Pac-12 tournament," he said. "That should be our focus."