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January 13, 2013

Takeaways: Cal 67 - Stanford 55

Stanford's remarkable 81-game Pac-12 winning streak is over. The Cardinal fell to No. 7 Cal 67-55 at Maples Pavilion on Sunday afternoon in a game the Card was never able to truly establish its offensive rhythm.

"I thought they played a good game," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said afterwards. "They are extremely aggressive, and if there's one thing that we're not, we're not aggressive. We're not aggressive enough offensively, we're not aggressive enough defensively, on the glass. And I think that one thing really set them apart."

Here are our takeaways from Maples Pavilion following the loss.

The streak ends: For all of the storylines within the game itself, Stanford's first Pac-12 loss in four seasons - the Cardinal last dropped on a conference game on Jan. 18, 2009, also to Cal - served as a reminder of just how dominant Stanford basketball has been over the past half decade.

"Streaks are great when you're on the good side of it," Chiney Ogwumike said. "But we don't mind it. We don't think oh, it's for the streak. We just come out and play, but yeah, it was a great era and obviously my sister she lost her freshman year, I think her first conference game, and then after that loss things changed for her and then we went on the streak. Hopefully these two tough loses we had here at Maples will motivate us to play better."

While VanDerveer didn't explicitly say that she expected the conference winning streak to end this season, it doesn't appear she was too surprised that Stanford finally fell to a conference foe.

"Quite honestly we as a coaching staff knew that this was going to be a tough year," VanDerveer said. "In some ways I think we overachieved earlier. And in some ways early success might hurt people, they might think that or we might think we're better than we are, but as coaches I think we really try and stay grounded.

"I don't know, the only answer I have is to work ourselves out of this. To get in the gym, to get in the weight room, to watch video and to say alright, we've got to play better and we need more people. I think we have quality players on our team and it's going to be time for everybody to step up and do more."

Second-chance opportunities plague Card Stanford ranked third in the conference in rebounding differential entering play, but was often beat by the Bears on the boards on Sunday - particularly early on. While Cal finished the game with a 43-39 rebounding edge (20-12 on the offensive glass), there was a point in the first half when the Bears had a 14-3 advantage on offensive rebounds. Part of that may be attributable to Stanford's lack of a consistent post presence (aside from Ogwumike), which has forced other players to fill roles they might not be entirely comfortable in.

"We don't have the inside presence," VanDerveer said. "We're playing Mikaela Ruef in the post and she's not used to playing there. She has to play there for us and she's gonna have to figure out what's she's gotta do in there."

Scheduling quirk draws attention: Most years, Cal and Stanford's two conference games are separated by several weeks, if not several months. This year, however, the teams played twice in one week.

"It was kind of an interesting scheduling twist when this came out," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. "The way it played out, they're going to laugh, but I said in the locker room at the end of all my stuff I said in some ways it's like a pickup game where you say okay, let's run it back and let's be better and I think that really fed into what our players are about. They're competitive and they were confident. I think the quick turnaround helped us in this case."

VanDerveer downplayed the impact of playing the team same opponent twice in one week.

"I don't think it helped or hurt," VanDerveer said. "I don't know that it would have helped us playing whether it was today, two weeks from now or three weeks from now or four weeks from now. It wouldn't have mattered if we played this week, next month or two months from now if you're not aggressive."

Help wanted for Ogwumike: Given Stanford's 14-2 record, it's hard to say that any area of the Card's game is lacking, even after today's loss. But it's hard not to be at least a bit concerned with Stanford's offensive efficiency. Entering play, Stanford was third in the conference in scoring average (though their rank might drop after the 55 point output), but this year's Stanford team simply lacks the offensive weapons that squads of previous years had. Finding a consistent scoring threat other than Chiney Ogwumike (who again led Stanford in scoring with 18 points) remains a priority.

Multiple times during Stanford's postgame press conference, VanDerveer indicated that getting Ogwumike help was key for the Card's offense.

"I just think that we're going to need different people stepping up for us," VanDerveer said.

Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb may have said it best when describing Cal's defensive strategy against the Card and how the Bears went about containing Ogwumike.

"The best defense on Chiney may be our defense on their guards and perimeter players," Gottlieb said.

Conference Parity: It may not last, but for the first time in years, there is some uncertainty at the top of the Pac-12 standings. UCLA and USC are currently tied for first place at 4-0 in league, while Cal and Stanford are a game back at 3-1. And while VanDerveer obviously would prefer to minimize Stanford's number of league losses, she is glad to see other Pac-12 teams playing at such a high level.

"I think it's great to have Cal playing so well, UCLA playing well," VanDerveer said. "We beg and beg and beg for the Pac-12 to get players and step up, so this is a good thing in a bad way for us."

Up next is a tough weekend series against visiting UCLA and USC, the top two teams in the conference standings.

"We just have to recover from this game and go on against UCLA and USC," VanDerveer said.

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