PREVIEW & PREDICTION - CALIFORNIA AT WASHINGTONThe Golden Bears travel to Seattle tonight to take on the Pac-10's enigma, the Washington Huskies. The Bears surprised the Huskies in overtime at Haas 77-69; can they repeat that magic in a building where Washington has lost only once this season?
In the first matchup...
Cal dominated a much taller Husky team inside, pulling down 47 rebounds and scoring countless second-chance baskets. Interestingly, the Bears had a poor shooting night, averaging only 38% from the floor and 24% from three - well below their season averages. Ryan Anderson was only 5-16 and Omar Wilkes was 5-14 for Cal. The UW game marked the emergence of Theo Robertson, who shook off a disappointing start to the season to add 14 points and 8 boards.
Following a horrible blowout loss to WSU at Friel Court, UW went on a mini-run, sweeping the Oregon schools at home and beating ASU in Tempe. Then came a trip to the McKale Center, where struggling Arizona (right) wiped the floor with the Dawgs 84-54. Repeating a theme that has plagued the Huskies all season long, the Cats shot 57% from the field in the victory. Even in the win over Oregon, the Ducks shot 54% (they lost due to turnovers and a 26-13 differential at the foul line). These Huskies simply don't defend well, and they must run and score bunches of points to win games.
Lorenzo Romar has shuffled his lineup since our first meeting, sending heralded freshman Spencer Hawes to the bench (he still averages about 28 minutes a game). Hawes has been slowed by the flu and an ankle sprain, which may explain Romar's move. There may be something else at work, though. Despite good numbers (14.6 ppg), Hawes has occasionally struggled to get into a rhythm on offense, and he hasn't provided the type of help on the glass that Washington expected. The Seattle Times and Post-Intelligencer both ran fairly unflattering columns today comparing Hawes with Cal's Anderson.
Romar suggested in today's paper that he might switch up his starting lineup; this could indicate that Hawes will reclaim his starting role from sophomore Artem Wallace. The rest of the starting five figures to be Jon Brockman and Phil Nelson in the front court, with Justin Dentmon and Ryan Appleby at guard. Quincy Pondexter (left), who lit it up for the Huskies in non-conference play, has been reduced to coming off the bench (he's averaging twenty minutes in a relief role).
Keys to the Game
- Home cooking. If Cal decides to crash the boards hard on offense, could they fall into foul trouble? Three Bears - Robertson, Eric Vierneisel and Taylor Harrison - finished the first UW game with four fouls. Cal shot 30 free throws to UW's 25. Vierneisel should return, but I haven't seen anything confirming that fact; in any event, Cal is paper thin and can't afford to have their big guns in foul trouble.
- Perimeter shooting. Cal shot poorly in the first game, and will need a much better performance tonight to get the W.
- Rebounding. I don't expect a repeat of 47-36, but Cal needs to control the defensive glass and limit second-chance points for Brockman, in particular.
- Mental toughness. Do the Huskies have it? If they lose this game, UW would need to win the Pac-10 tournament to have a chance at the NCAAs. Some Husky fans have thrown in the towel; others are sniping at the team's performance, especially on the defensive end. UW is a very young team, and it's an open question how freshmen and sophomores will respond to the drama swirling around their program.
Washington has lost only once at home (to Arizona), and it's a tall order to expect Cal to grab #2. I do expect the Bears to keep it close, but the combination of a motivated Husky team with the home court advantage should help Washington eke one out. Let's hope the Tightwad Hill track record of lousy predictions continues...