Andrew Zimmermann was not going to end his Stanford career quietly. The senior forward, who averaged less than four points and 13 minutes per game during the regular season, played the game of his life in Thursday night’s quarterfinals matchup against the California Golden Bears, but ultimately it wasn’t enough, as the Cardinal fell to the Bears 77-71 to end its rollercoaster season in a disappointing fashion.
Zimmermann, known for his grizzly hairstyle and brute determination, scored a career-high 22 points on 8-15 shooting in his last ever game in a Stanford Cardinal uniform.
Stanford (21-11, 10-8 Pac-12) was looking to follow in Oregon State’s footsteps, as the Beavers managed to shock the first-ranked Washington Huskies earlier in the day, upsetting them by a final count of 86-84. A win against Cal (24-8, 13-5 Pac-12) would have put Stanford in good position to claim the Pac-12 conference crown, and with it, an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. However, despite a quick start and a career-best performance from Zimmermann, the Cardinal came up just short in a hard-fought game.
The two rivals traded baskets for much of the first half. In the first eight minutes, there were six lead changes and three ties, as neither team could pull away from its opponent. The Cardinal gradually managed to grab the lead, going up 28-21 on a pair of free throws from senior forward Josh Owens. Unfortunately for Owens, he did not have a large impact on the game, as he was forced to sit due to foul trouble.
Stanford managed to close out the first half well, as sophomore guard Aaron Bright hit a runner in traffic just as time expired to put the Cardinal up 30-23. Stanford was able to capitalize on 14 Cal turnovers in the first twenty minutes to take the lead. Zimmermann led Stanford with nine points on 3-of-6 shooting in the first half.
However, the Cardinal lead wouldn’t last long. Cal got off to a quick start in the second half, taking a 38-33 lead after sophomore guard Alan Crabbe hit a three-pointer in transition with 16 minutes to go. Freshman guard Chasson Randle managed to halt a 15-3 Cal run with a driving layup to pull Stanford to within three. The Cardinal struggled to overcome this deficit, though, as a balanced and confident Cal offensive attack kept Stanford on its heels.
Much of Cal’s offensive success could be attributed to senior guard Jorge Gutierrez. The senior knifed through the Stanford defense time and again, hurting them both in the paint and from the three-point line. Every time the Golden Bears needed a big shot, Gutierrez was the go-to guy. After Aaron Bright hit a three to cut Cal’s lead to three, Gutierrez countered with a long ball of his own to put the Golden Bears up 48-43.
Still, the Card continued to cut away at Cal’s lead, finally managing to tie the game at 56 apiece after Randle went two for two from the charity stripe. After that, the Zimmermann show began. After a three-point attempt from Bright rimmed out, Zimmermann soared into the paint for an offensive rebound and put-back to tie the game at 60 with 6:03 remaining.
At that point, Cal decided that it was not going to be embarrassed by its cross-Bay rivals for a second straight game, orchestrating a quick 10-2 run to go back up by eight with just 2:58 left. Just when the game appeared out of reach, Randle hit a huge three-pointer with 1:40 remaining. He followed it with a runner on the next possession, cutting Cal’s lead to 73-69. Unfortunately, it was too little too late for the Card, as the Golden Bears managed to close out a 77 to 71 victory with solid free throw shooting down the stretch.
For Cal, it was a tale of two halves. After committing double-digit turnovers in the first period, they were much more secure with the ball down the stretch, giving it up just three times in the second half. Additionally, the Cardinal could not slow down Gutierrez, who torched Stanford for 22 points, 19 of which came in the second half. The senior guard made a strong case for Pac-12 Player of the Year with his Thursday night performance.
Stanford’s Chasson Randle followed up a phenomenal Wednesday night performance—in which he scored a Pac-12 tournament record 27 points in the first half—with19 points. While Randle struggled offensively in the first half, he regained the form that has turned him into Stanford’s premier scorer in the second.
The story for Stanford was Zimmermann, who closed out his Cardinal career, one that has been defined by hard work, with a bang. He left every ounce of fight he had left on the Staples Center court, but it wasn’t enough.
While head coach Johnny Dawkins and his Cardinal players are surely disappointed by the abrupt end to their season, they were able to accomplish many things that past teams have failed to do. Dawkins eclipsed 20 wins for the first time in his short Stanford career, and the Cardinal will look to build on this momentum next season.
The Pac-12 tournament continues tomorrow with the semifinal round.