If Stanford gets to the NCAA Tournament, its 69-59 victory over Cal on Saturday at Maples Pavilion will be considered the turning point.
In fact, a single play may be seen as the moment that turned the Cardinal's season around.
Certainly Stanford's ability to limit Cal guard Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs to 27 combined points (including just four points on 1-for-11 shooting in the first half) had a lot to do with Stanford being 2-3 in the Pac-12 at the moment instead of reeling at 1-4.
And Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins has to like the fact that Dwight Powell (17 points) continues to score at a consistent pace and that Chasson Randle (15 points, his fourth straight game of 15 points or more) slowly but surely seems to be regaining his confidence at the offensive end. And 6-foot-10 John Gage may have provided the most unexpected boost for the Cardinal by scoring a career-high 14 points while hitting all four of his three-point attempts, which is a big deal for a Stanford team that entere the game ranked last in the Pac-12 in three-point percentage.
But all that probably would have gone unnoticed had it not been for a single play made by Randle midway through the second half.
Stanford had let an eight-point lead early in the second half slip away, and the Golden Bears had momentum on their side and possession of the ball after scoring six straight points to get within 43-42.
But instead of Cal (10-7, 2-3) getting off a shot that could have put the Bears ahead, Randle stole a crosscourt pass by Cobbs and took it the length of the floor, fending off Cal's 6-10 Richard Solomon at the basket to put in a layup that made it 45-42 Stanford with 12:41 left. The momentum shifted in an instant, starting a seven-point Stanford run from which Cal could not recover.
Of course, if Stanford (11-7) now fizzles in its next several games - a road trip against Colorado and Utah followed by a home game against No. 21 Oregon - no one will recall the significance of that play or Saturday's game.
To have success in that pivotal three-game stretch, Stanford needs Aaron Bright to break out of his season-long shooting slump. Making just his sixth start of the season on Saturday, Bright was 0-for-6 from the floor, including 0-for-3 on three-pointers, and finished with just two points. In his last two games, he is 0-for-11 from the field and 0-for-6 on three-pointers. Perhaps most telling was that Bright, who has been bothered virtually all season by an ankle injury, was not in the game down the stretch. Gabe Harris got those critical minutes instead.
Stanford shot just 35.8 percent for the game, and Gage, who missed his only two-point attempt, was the only Cardinal player who made at least half his shots. But Stanford made up for that by getting 31 free throws (making 25) while Cal got 15 foul shots and made 11.
Stanford's superior depth was illustrated by the fact that the Cardinal's bench players outscored Cal's reserves 26-3.