Cal Basketball: How Many Fans Will Show Up Sunday for Rivalry Game vs. Stanford?

Jeff Faraudo

Cal’s game against rival Stanford on Sunday afternoon at Haas Pavilion will tell us a lot about what fans expect from the Bears this season.

Those waiting for the Bears to be contenders again in the Pac-12 will stay home.

Fans who understand that was never going to happen this season will show up because this is Cal vs. Stanford and even in the worst of times that’s a game worth watching.

Cal fans have every reason to be frustrated by the state of their team. Not just this one, but the past three seasons. Worst in school history.

For those of us who lucky enough to have watched KJ and Kidd and Shareef and so may other talented players over the past three-plus decades, the Bears of recent vintage can be hard to watch.

And sometimes, obviously, folks simply have decided not to watch.

Cal’s average home attendance through 10 games is 3,850, on pace for by far the lowest since Haas Pavilion opened in 1999-2000. The previous low average was last season when the Bears drew 5,627. The next worst was 2017-18, when 7,376 per game showed up.

I get it. Those past two teams won eight games apiece, assembling the worst back-to-back seasons in program history. And playing at home didn’t help them much. Cal was 16-21 the past two years at Haas, where they were 33-4 the previous two years under Cuonzo Martin.

This year is a fresh start, with Mark Fox replacing Wyking Jones as coach. Fox understood the hand he was dealt and never promised a quick fix. He warned fans this would take time and there would be tough days this season.

Three significant players from a year ago bolted the program and this year’s roster features eight freshmen and sophomores.

Certainly the Bears have been overmatched against some opponents. At other times, they appear to either have no offensive skill or defensive know-how.

After an encouraging 4-0 start, they lost by 35 points to Duke. No one was really surprised by that outcome, right?

Last weekend, Cal scored just 40 points in a road loss to a mediocre UCLA team, marking the seventh time the Bears have failed to reach 55 points.

Now they return to action Sunday against a surprising Stanford team that entered play Saturday actually alone in first place in the Pac-12 at 4-1. The Cardinal is 15-3 overall — far exceeding expectations — including a 68-52 win over the Bears at Maples Pavilion in the conference opener back on Jan. 2.

Stanford’s defense has been stellar but the Cardinal won’t show up with ready-made NBA talent. And while Stanford is 11-1 at home, it’s just 4-2 in road/neutral games and coming off a monumental collapse at USC, where it gave away a 21-point second-half lead in an 82-78 overtime loss.

This game should not be a mismatch. Not at Haas.

The Bears have been competitive at home, 8-2 with losses to Harvard and Saint Mary’s, who entered play Saturday with a combined record of 29-8. Two weeks ago, when things appeared their bleakest for the Bears, they swept Washington State and Washington at Haas.

My question: Will Cal fans show up to provide their team the comfort zone they apparently feel at Haas?

Fox has addressed the influence of fan support and you can’t blame the guy for campaigning to see bigger crowds.

Cal's largest attendance of the season was 5,734 for Saint Mary's on Dec. 14. You'd think Cal vs. Stanford could draw at least that.

A week from now, few would leave their sofa and miss the 49ers playing in the Super Bowl to watch this game. But the competition on Sunday TV is the Pro Bowl — the worst of all professional all-star games — and Zion Williamson in his third NBA game.

At Haas, an 8-10 basketball team that has no chance of playing in the NCAA tournament will try again. Whether fans show up depends on they were expecting this season.

But unlike future home matchups against Oregon and Arizona, the talent disparity in this one is not overwhelming.

Then there’s this: With a victory, the Bears can exceed their win total of each of the past two years. Sure, that’s a low bar, but it’s something.