In her first year back in Berkeley, Lindsay Gottlieb has California on track to be an NCAA tournament team again.
Even if the Golden Bears' latest performance isn't what she wants people to remember about her young team's potential in early March with the Pac-12 tournament beginning this week.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike had 22 points, nine rebounds and four assists, Toni Kokenis scored 23 points, and the second-ranked Cardinal capped their third straight unbeaten conference season with an 86-61 victory over rival Cal on Sunday night.
"You can't have these kind of mistakes and hope to compete against the No. 2 team in the country," said Gottlieb, hired away from UC Santa Barbara to be Cal's head coach after previously serving as a top assistant in Berkeley.
"In the Pac-12, anyone can beat anyone on a given night and we've done a good job of separating ourselves from that. There's only one option and that's to use this to make us better Thursday."
Chiney Ogwumike added 12 points and 12 rebounds as Stanford (28-1, 18-0 Pac-12) won its 25th in a row overall and eighth straight against the Golden Bears, who came within 74-71 in an overtime loss at Maples Pavilion on Jan. 28 — the Cardinal's closest push in a win all season and lone OT game.
The Cardinal, who captured the inaugural Pac-12 regular-season crown and the program's 12th straight conference title, ran their winning streak against conference opponents to 75 since losing 57-54 to Cal in Berkeley on Jan. 18, 2009.
Gennifer Brandon scored 11 points and Eliza Pierre had 10 to lead Cal (22-8, 13-5), which couldn't overcome a 19-point halftime deficit and had a four-game winning streak snapped with just the team's third loss in the last 16 games.
"I think we all wanted to win this game but this game doesn't hurt us," Pierre said. "They're a great team. You have to respect them. Are they 25 points better than us? I don't think so."
Stanford's Tara VanDerveer has called all season for more of her players to get involved on both ends of the floor to take a load off the talented Ogwumike sisters — and the Cardinal's 26th-year coach received several such performances in the regular-season finale.
"I really feel people who watch us play would just say, 'Hey, they're having a great year,'" VanDerveer said. "Our team knows we can play with anyone, we just want the chance."
Kokenis shot 9 for 14 with three 3s and also had six rebounds and four assists. Joslyn Tinkle scored 16 points with two 3s and freshman Bonnie Samuelson hit three first-half 3-pointers on the way to nine points. Stanford went 8 for 20 from long range, with former Stanford stars Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen cheering the Cardinal among the crowd of 7,854 at Haas Pavilion. Stanford hasn't lost to a conference opponent since Cal pulled off that win here in 2009.
Stanford was too much for Cal defensively. Layshia Clarendon averaged 19.8 points over her previous four games yet attempted only eight shots Sunday after scoring 17 points in the first meeting with Stanford.
The Cardinal haven't lost since a 68-58 defeat at Connecticut on Nov. 21 and are two victories from matching the longest winning streak in program history. Stanford had 27-game winning streaks in back-to-back seasons: 2009-10 and 2010-11.
"It means a lot to win the Pac-12 and be the first one to win the Pac-12, and to go undefeated. We're not satisfied," Nneka Ogwumike said. "Playing against Cal is always emotional. At this point in time people really need to buy into having fun."
Bears freshman Brittany Boyd scored a career-best 19 points against Stanford the first time out — and it looked like she was headed for another big day early. Boyd had a steal, four rebounds and four points in the opening four minutes, but wound up 1 for 9 in the first half and 3 of 15 overall for eight points after an 8-for-19 performance the last time out against Stanford.
Nneka Ogwumike swatted a shot by Boyd beyond the Stanford bench with 5:21 left in the first half.
Cal shot 1 for 10 from 3-point range, was even on the boards at 41-41 and converted only 10 of 21 free throws to Stanford's 24 for 27 from the line.
Stanford used a 10-0 run late in the first half and held Cal scoreless for 6:15 during that span on the way to a 43-24 lead at the break. The Cardinal finished 18-0 in conference play for the third straight season.
The Pac-12 tournament begins Wednesday at Staples Center in Los Angeles, but Stanford and Cal are the top two seeds and open Thursday. Cal earned its fifth 20-win season in six years. The Bears have played a tough schedule and are poised for their first NCAA berth since 2009.
"I don't think there's even a question. Would I always feel better to get a couple more wins in the tournament? Absolutely," Gottlieb said. "Hopefully that's not part of the conversation at this point."
The Cardinal began the game 1 for 8 but quickly got in synch from long range. Samuelson knocked down two 3-pointers and Kokenis another as Stanford went ahead 21-11 at the 11:45 mark of the first half, leading to a Cal timeout.
"We got down 4-0 and then we just took off," VanDerveer said.
Stanford, which has reached the last four Final Fours but come home empty since the program's last NCAA title in 1992, has a winning streak of 20 or more games for the fifth straight season. The Cardinal would like to send senior Nneka Ogwumike out with another special March run.
"It's sort of the time you either get with it or you give up," Chiney Ogwumike said. "We really have a challenge ahead of us in the Pac-12 tournament."
The Cardinal are 11-1 on Cal's home court since 2000-01.