At the end of a skirmish late in the second half of Wednesday night's Pac-12 rivalry game between Cal and Stanford, referees reviewed the incident on a monitor and made a ruling that caught most viewers by surprise.
They ejected assistant coaches who sprinted off their respective benches to separate the players involved and ensure the scuffle didn't escalate further.
Tempers boiled over with about five minutes remaining in Stanford's 83-70 road victory when there was a scramble for a loose ball and Cardinal forward Dwight Powell caught Cal's Allen Crabbe in the chest with an elbow. After appearing to flop in hopes of drawing a flagrant foul, Crabbe then got up and ran at Powell, igniting a shoving match that resulted in no punches thrown but two players and three assistant coaches being ejected for leaving the bench.
The irony of Cal assistant Gregg Gottlieb and Stanford assistants Charles Payne and Mark Madsen being tossed is all three did a great job pulling players away from each other in order to make sure a full-fledged brawl didn't ensue. Coaches on both sides surely knew that a punch could result in at least a one-game suspension for the offending player, something neither side could afford with no games left prior to the start of the Pac-12 tournament.
By rule, the referees acted appropriately ejecting the three assistants because the NCAA rulebook states that only "the head coach may leave the bench area in this case to prevent the situation from escalating." That's probably something the rules committee may want to address because in this case the assistants acted in a way that benefited both their teams and the game.
The skirmish was a fitting result in a rivalry game that was probably frustrating for both teams for entirely different reasons.
For Cal, a listless senior night performance halted its momentum from a seven-game win streak and likely cost the Bears any chance at a share of the Pac-12 title. They still should be in good shape to secure an NCAA tournament bid, but they would need Oregon to get swept at Colorado and Utah and UCLA to lose at Washington in order to claim a co-conference championship.
For Stanford, completing a season sweep of Cal was maddening in some ways too because it's a reminder of how good the Cardinal can be when they play to their potential.
Despite returning the core of a team that won the NIT last season, Stanford regressed this year and, barring a Pac-12 tournament title, will miss the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in five seasons under coach Johnny Dawkins. Dwight Powell has played at an all-conference level and Josh Huestis has blossomed offensively and played his usual fierce defense, but poor perimeter shooting, a short bench and a sophomore slump from Chasson Randle have been the Cardinal's undoing.
Stanford's backcourt came alive Wednesday night as Randle scored an efficient 20 points, Aaron Bright added 16 and the Cardinal sank 9 of 17 3-pointers. If Stanford gets production anywhere close to that from its backcourt in the Pac-12 tournament, it will be a tough out.
(Thanks, @cfbsectionhoops for the video)
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