HOUSE OF HORRORSFebruary 14, 1993. Valentine's Day. That's the last time the University of California won a basketball game at Maples Pavilion. 13 straight times Cal has gone down to defeat in this building. In most instances, Stanford was a deserving favorite, often ranked nationally. In other games, Cal found a way to self-destruct (1994's 88-79 loss comes to mind).
This year, Stanford is a flawed team that unfortunately matches up very well against the DeVon Hardin-less Bears.
Stanford on Offense
The Cardinal's strength is in the front court, where the Lopez twins are already maturing into dangerous players at both ends of the court. Against Arizona last Saturday, they had their way inside - Brook had 17 points and 9 rebounds, and Robin contributed 14 points and 7 boards. They are complemented by Lawrence Hill, who has emerged as a major scoring threat, averaging 15.3 ppg.
Brook has yet to start a game, as the Cardinal have favored a smaller starting lineup of Robin, Hill and Fred Washington with Mitch Johnson at the point and Anthony Goods at the two. One would think that the elder Johnson would be tempted to start both twins against a team without a strong post defender, but we shall see. In any event, both twins will see lots of time against the Golden Bears. Given these matchups, Cal has little choice but to play zone for a good portion of Wednesday's game.
The Cardinal are shooting 32% from three-point range. Goods is most likely to shoot from 3, with 75 attempts on the season, and he's shooting better from three (35%) than he is from the field (33%). Goods also leads the team in FG attempts with 119 (Hill has 112), which is mind-blowing and reflects poorly on both Johnsons (the point guard and his father).
This is one of the two worst offensive back courts in the conference (along with Oregon State), and Cal must hope that they don't suddenly get hot Wednesday night.
Stanford on Defense
The bigs are already proving to be adept shot-blockers, which will force penetrators to pass effectively in the interior. The threat of a strong perimeter game is the best way to cope with the Cardinal, and therein lies a possible key to the upset Wednesday. When Stanford plays man and Cal goes with Anderson at the 5, he can attempt to draw a Lopez out to a high post or along the perimeter. This could open things up for Ubaka and Randle on dribble-drive.
If Stanford zones, Cal will need to execute much better than it's done thus far. We've yet to see the Bears consistently establish a high post in the middle of the zone and distribute the ball inside to cutters or outside for a good look when the defense collapses. Instead, the Bears rifle the ball around the perimeter and hope the zone is slow in rotating. Our next effective guard penetration against the zone will be our first. Not that the Bears will see a ton of zone this year, but Braun needs to improve this aspect of the offense.
Lastly, you can run on Stanford - while they hustle and are disciplined in getting back on defense, they're not particularly quick or athletic and Cal can perhaps gain an advantage in transition (assuming they can get a few defensive rebounds).
Keys to the game:
* Keep Stanford off the offensive glass. Easier said than done, given the Cardinal's height advantage, but at this stage of their career the Lopez twins are most effective on put-backs.
* Expose their weakness. Cal's back court needs to control this game on both ends. Johnson and the other guards can be turned over (Stanford averages 15 a game), and the Cardinal don't have a reliable offensive threat in the back court. On defense, they're ordinary. This would be a good time for Ayinde to have a breakout performance.
* Run a different lineup. Ben has been going small with Vierneisel logging lots of minutes, but he needs Harrison and probably Pribble to eat fouls Wednesday to keep Anderson in the ballgame.
Prediction: Stanford can be had at home, and if DeVon were in the lineup we'd have a very different view of Cal's chances. Without him, it's hard to imagine that the Bears can cope with the twin towers and Hill and the Maples crowd, despite the advantage at guard.