THE RECENT long weekend was a blessing for Joanne Boyle's Cal squad, giving it a little extra time to reflect on the damage inflicted by hurricane Stanford.
The Cal women needed the extra hours to treat their wounds while examining and analyzing the destruction left after disaster strikes. And Saturday night was a basketball disaster.
In their quest to stay unbeaten within the Pac-10, the Bears — somewhat offended at being considered the underdog — led most of the first half and were up by 10 points early in the second at Maples Pavilion. In the statement game Cal needed to claim superiority over rival Stanford while also validating itself as a national championship contender, the Bears showed up big time.
In a flash, though, that script was torched and replaced by one in which Stanford dominated the Bears, not only overtaking them but outscoring them 38-11 the rest of the way.
It's the kind of beatdown that can make an elite team such as Cal, which saw its national ranking drop from No. 3 in the country to No. 6, wonder how elite it is. Before this 58-41 loss, Cal was the most impressive major college hoops team in California — men or women.
The attempt to recover provides Boyle an opportunity to again show that she reads her team better than anyone and knows how to provoke the desired response, beginning tonight against Oregon at Haas Pavilion.
Boyle gave the team Sunday
"But they came out and they were on point," Boyle said. "And we needed it. You have to learn from it, grow from it and move on. It was an important game, but the next six are just as important."
Boyle's goal coming to Cal four years ago was to build a national powerhouse and perennial Pac-10 title contender. She has succeeded at the former, and the latter can be determined only through time.
Never, though, has the window at Cal been as open as now, for this is the last chance for center Devanei Hampton and forward Ashley Walker, whose skills and senior leadership have been indispensable while scaling the national rankings and mashing Pac-10 opponents. Either can take over a game, as can junior guard Alexis Gray-Lawson.
Yet all three were powerless during Stanford's epic comeback — epic not so much because the Cardinal wiped out a 10-point deficit but because they proceeded from there to blow the Bears off the floor. With Walker and Gray-Lawson hindered by foul trouble, Cal was exposed for its lack of quality experienced depth.
Insofar as Cal knew what was at stake, entered the game with the appropriate intensity and still was overpowered down the stretch, a little psychological mending might be in order.
Until last Saturday, the Bears were a team defined by its defense and swagger. Seeing the defense shredded and the offensive execution go to pieces, well, nothing can strip confidence as quickly as the appearance of doubt.
"They're pretty good about moving on from things," Boyle said. "We lost to Oklahoma, then won 12 straight. You can sense your team when they come out on the floor after a tough loss and see how they'll react. They kind of move forward from it.
"They know that was a big game for us, but it's not our season. It's kind of what we do from here on out that's going to determine where we are in the tournament. It's about getting better at the (weaknesses that were exposed) and working these next six games to put ourselves back in a great position."
The goal is to get locked in for the Pac-10 tournament, when the Bears (20-3, 11-1 Pac-10) could see Stanford (20-4, 11-1) for the third time this season, and their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament, where Cal believed, rightfully, it has the goods to make the Final Four.
The Bears likely still believe that, despite the wake-up call at Maples, which killed the bid for Pac-10 perfection and surely left scars.
They have six games and the postseason to show they benefited from the experience.
Contact Monte Poole at firstname.lastname@example.org.