* 6 p.m. at Maples Pavilion (Fox Sports 1)
Three straight road games to open the Pac-12 schedule does have a hidden benefit for Cal. At Maples Pavilion on Thursday evening, the Bears figure to play in front of a less-than-capacity crowd and few students.
Could be a similar situation next week, when Cal plays Thursday night at Oregon and Saturday at Oregon State.
And there will be no pregame parading of a Rose Bowl trophy, won by Michigan State on Wednesday afternoon.
But Stanford (9-3) will be a challenge for Cal (9-4), starting with defensive matchups that are problematic.
The Cardinal’s move this season to a bigger lineup — essentially replacing (now-injured) point guard Aaron Bright with center Stefan Nastic — will force Cal coach Mike Montgomery to make some tough choices on defense.
The Bears could play zone defense — and probably will in stretches. But Stanford is a good 3-point shooting team with size on the perimeter that makes it tough to close out on shooters.
Otherwise, man-to-man assignments will be interesting. Richard Solomon said he’s likely to get first shot at 6-foot-10 forward Dwight Powell, who is capable of playing in the post or away from the basket, and is Stanford’s top assist man.
David Kravish then would draw Nastic in the low post.
“Nastic has improved considerably,” Montgomery said. “If he gets it to the ball he wants it at the post, he’s very good.”
Figure Justin Cobbs will defend Chasson Randle and freshman Jordan Mathews will shadow Anthony Brown in the backcourt. Mathews, three years younger and three inches shorter than Brown, will have his hands full.
Given that scenario, no one will face a bigger challenge than Tyrone Wallace, a 6-5 guard who would be matched against Josh Heustis, a 6-7 forward and one of the Pac-12’s most aggressive defender/rebounders.
Even if Ricky Kreklow (hand) and Jabari Bird (ankle) were healthy, Stanford would present tough matchups. But their absence further limits the Bears, especially when they go to their bench.
“We’ve kind got of an odd-ball sort of a lineup right now,” Montgomery said. “Our substitution patterns have changed. We’re having to get out of this group what we can.”
One option would be to see what freshman center Kameron Rooks can do against Nastic, a much-improved player whose skillset is fairly limited. Rooks could also be used in a zone to give Solomon or Kravish a break.
Regular season-ending losses to Stanford cost the Bears a share of the past two Pac-12 titles. Cal dropped both meetings to the Cardinal a year ago and has not won at Maples since 2010.
The Bears lead the all-time series 145-117 and have a 74-70 edge in games at Stanford.
Montgomery’s next victory will be his 119th at Cal, trying him with the legendary Pete Newell (1955-60) for fourth on the school’s coaching list. Montgomery is 118-63 at Cal. Newell was 119-44, including two Final Four appearances and the 1950 NCAA title.