PREVIEW & PREDICTION - CALIFORNIA AT USC
No, you're thinking of that other LA school (AP/Branimir Kvartuc)
SC is one of two truly evil empires in Pac-10 football - the other being Team Swoosh - but I can't help but root for their basketball team a little bit (not tomorrow, of course). These Trojans have endured the tragic loss of Ryan Francis in the off-season, the importance of which transcends its impact on the basketball court. Their team is the antithesis of Henry Bibby's manic-depressive crews who could always be counted on to do something silly in crunch time. They usually play lock-down defense, and show much greater discipline on offense than teams past. Lastly, Tim Floyd is a solid and somewhat likable coach who is helping to build a stronger and more competitive conference.
But they're still connected to USC, so let's not get carried away.
When last we saw the Trojans, they were clawing out a narrow 76-73 victory over our Bears at Haas. Since then, they've won 4 of 6, but some cracks are showing. For one thing, top frosh Taj Gibson is wearing down physically
. How do I know that? Taj Gibson said so, in a story in the LA Times. It shows in his production - two points against Arizona, a goose egg v ASU. He bounced back a bit last night, with 8 points and 8 boards against Stanford, but he's not quite the game changer he was in the first half of the season. As much as Taylor Harrison would love to take credit for getting in his head, I think we can chalk this up to freshman fatigue.
Without Gibson, USC becomes the Three Amigos on offense with Nick Young, Lodrick Stewart and Gabe Pruitt shouldering almost all the scoring burden. Against the Cardinal they had 57 of the team's 69 points. That will get them into the tourney, but they need Gibson to provide better balance to get much further than one-and-done.
SC can be turned over, and we'll see whether Ben gets creative with half-court traps and the occasional full-court pressure - Cal is of course limited in how long they can play this style by their injury situation. When USC coughs up the rock, they lose - against ASU they had 16 turnovers and backup guard Daniel Hackett had four in only 15 minutes of play.
What the Trojans have done really well all year long is play defense. USC is 9th in the nation in effective FG%
(the list goes UConn, A&M, Memphis, Fresno St., Kansas, Maryland, USC and Michigan St.) Even here, though, the Trojans have had confounding stretches of ineptitude. Against ASU, an almost primitive offensive team, the Trojans surrendered 47 points
in the second half.
So...glass half empty or half full? Is this a twenty-win team with gaudy defensive stats, or a tired team full of front court holes? Is the Stanford win impressive, given how big the Cardinal are inside, or is it somewhat tainted by the fact that Anthony Goods was out with an ankle sprain? Hmmm....
I think the answer is yes. SC is
a very good defensive team, but they showed against ASU that they can't afford any lapses, even against a pretty feeble offensive team. They've got talented scorers on offense, but not much behind them, and therefore they struggle when any one of their big guns has an off night. And, they're now relying on pep talks from Petey
to get them fired up. Not an encouraging sign.
Despite their talents, and despite the guy sitting on their bench, they can be had. Cal will need to execute like they did in the first half of last night's game, and the Bears must take care of the basketball and not waste possessions (unlike last night's game). Anderson must have another strong game, and Ubaka, Wilkes and Christopher need to bring their best on defense.
You know, it's not that far fetched.
California 72 USC 71
Hope Springs Eternal in Knoxville (WBIR-TV)
...began yesterday in Knoxville, TN. The Vols were the first to sort of strap it on this season
, and they will play the traditional Orange-and-White game on March 31, before six BCS conference teams have even begun their spring drills. Interesting trivia - all six are Pac-10 schools (UofA, Oregon, OSU, Stanford, UCLA and Washington). I have no idea why this is so; if anything, one would expect western teams to start early given the favorable weather relative to schools in the midwest and east. Arizona is the last to begin - St. Michael is understandably distracted with his ongoing crusade for moral propriety
The Vols are installing a no-huddle offense
, and focused on getting more pressure on the quarterback. They're also holding auditions for defensive backs, where they will have three new starters, and wide receivers (no starters return).
Cal begins on March 12, but please don't expect much in the way of reports. Tedford is notoriously sensitive about "coverage" of spring ball, and we're happy to honor his request to keep things in the family.
PLAY IT AGAIN, BEN
"Play it once, Ben...for old times' sake."
"I don't know what you mean, Tightwad."
"Play it Ben. Play 'Cal Collapses in the Second Half of Big Games.'"
Yes, Ben knows that tune. We all know it, and it doesn't get any better or easier to accept with repetition.
When you shoot the lights out and you still trail the #1 RPI school in the nation on the road at halftime, well, you know what's going to happen to our short-handed Bears. Didn't make the inevitable second-half pistol whipping any less painful. Let's examine the wreckage:
* The 25-5 run in the second half turned a competitive game into a complete laugher. After a season of outstanding ball control, Cal finally lost it in the 2nd half tonight. The final line says 12 turnovers, and that tells only half the story. In addition to the seven steals and fast-break conversions, UCLA's defensive intensity interrupted Cal's motion and limited their good looks in the second half.
* Defensively the Bears really took a step backward - and UCLA was incredibly disciplined about breaking down Cal's defense and getting the ball inside. UCLA shot 61%, and it felt like they shot 85% in the second half (I don't have the breakdown yet). The Bruins attempted only eight 3's all night.
* Ben Howland is a great game coach. We knew that, but UCLA's in-game adjustments were just beautiful, if painful to watch. They still have a first-half issue, though, that might cause problems in the NCAAs.
* Josh Shipp was tremendous (22 points/6 assists) and did a nice job defensively. Lorenzo Mata somehow went 8 of 9 from the foul line. He and Aboya get no pub nationally, but they are really important parts of a very good basketball team.
* One bright spot for Cal was the play of Ryan Anderson, who appears to be back in his groove with a 21 point/6 rebound performance.
* Elsewhere around the Pac, Oregon got a big win
over the Cougs that should help their seeding in the Tourney (and ensure the Cougs rise no higher than a 3 seed), and I'm glad I'm not a Washington fan
* SC is next up for our battered Bears. They got over on the Cardinal tonight and prompted the Comical to say they've punched their NCAA ticket
, so let's hope for a letdown on Saturday. As noted earlier, SC is the better opportunity for a W, as long as Braun plays a different song at halftime.
THE SWEET SIXTEEN - #8 - ANDY WOLFE
#8 - ANDY WOLFE - FORWARD (1946-1948)
Most Blues, old and young, associate the dawn of California basketball with the day Pete Newell set foot on the Berkeley campus and began crafting a national champion team. In fact, when Newell brought his Bears to Louisville in 1959, he was making the school's second trip to the Final Four. The first came in 1946, and the Bears were led by a sophomore named Andy Wolfe.
In fairness you had to win only one game to make the "Final Four" in those early years, but the achievement was still remarkable for a school without much basketball tradition. The Bears punched their ticket to New York by downing Colorado 50-44 in Kansas City behind 17 points from Wolfe, more than twice the scoring output of any member of the Buffaloes team. Cal eventually lost to Oklahoma A&M and their seven foot giant Bob Kurland, who would go on to win the national championship over North Carolina.
Wolfe averaged 13.4 ppg in that first season, and won first-team all-conference honors. To qualify for the tournament Cal had to beat Idaho for the PCC championship in a best two-of-three series. The teams split the first two games, and then Wolfe scored 19 points in the rubber match to stamp Cal's ticket to Kansas City.
The forward would go on to earn All-PCC honors three times, and be named a consensus 2nd team All-American after his senior season in 1948. He smashed the Cal career scoring record of 725 points and left Berkeley as the school's first 1,000 point scorer, finishing with 1,112. More importantly, the Bears went 75-26 during Wolfe's career, their best three-year run in more than a decade.
Wolfe was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors in 1948, but played AAU basketball for Stewart Chevrolet in San Francisco. He eventually earned his law degree from the University of San Francisco and practiced in Oakland until his retirement several years ago. Andy Wolfe was inducted into the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame in 1987, and named to the Pac-10 Hall of Honor in 2006.
PREVIEW AND PREDICTION - CALIFORNIA AT UCLA
So we're playing with house money tonight. Here's the TH preview of the game no one expects Cal to win:
As Nestor and several commenters pointed out
, I forgot that Afflalo matched up on Ubaka for almost all of the first meeting between the teams. My bad - I tried to wipe the memory from my mind. But the point remains - the super-quick Collison's one issue as a defender is his size disadvantage with bigger guards. Whether he's guarding Ubaka or Wilkes, Cal has a height advantage and should try to establish that guard in the post on occasion, if for no other reason than to force double teams and create some open space for cutters.
Why not? It's not like we have a lot of good options. UCLA is extraordinarily difficult to screen on the perimeter, so opponents are often reduced to passing the ball around at twenty feet, hoping for a good look from three. Teams rarely get that good look, because UCLA gets out on shooters as well as anybody. I just don't see Cal's flex offense doing much against a superior opponent without the addition of some wrinkles. The Bears need to give UCLA something - anything
- to worry about in the paint to create space for shooters on the perimeter. In the first game, Cal didn't do that, and the Bears scored 46 points. Ubaka's awful game had a lot to do with that, but do you remember a lot of good perimeter looks for the Bears? I don't.
(BTW, the Bruins Nation folks can be a prickly lot. Read the comments over there
- they suggest that we regurgitate material from the hated Chronicle, which to our loyal readers should be high comedy. And associating the SF rags with our basketball content is an interesting line of attack, considering that I wouldn't think BN readers would want to be tied to the LA Times' stellar, unbiased football coverage.
Nestor's a very good guy, though, and has lots of passion for his school.)
Back to the game:
* Cal takes care of the basketball as well as any team this side of Pullman, which is one thing to feel good about tonight. UCLA is 2nd in the conference in turnover margin (at +3.12/game - WSU leads)
* Shipp will likely guard Christopher, which is an upgrade from the last two opponents. How will PC respond to a tougher match-up? Don't think we can expect 24/11 tonight...
* In the first game, Collison didn't have a good offensive game, but Afflalo more than made up for it and torched Cal in the second half. The Bears should expect a better performance from DC tonight - he's the reigning Pac-10 POW, having averaged 17 ppg and 9.0 apg in the sweep of the Arizona schools.
* Cal has beaten the Bruins at Pauley the last two seasons, and Howland has been playing that up with his team
this week. I expect to see a pretty motivated bunch of Bruins.
* UCLA creamed Cal on the glass in the first matchup. The box score says the Bruins had 11 offensive rebounds, and I think they converted every one. BBR suggests that Cal might zone more than usual
in an effort to slow the game down, but we know how Cal struggles to rebound out of the zone. I'm not sure I agree.
Prediction? The Bears will keep it fairly close and wilt in the second half. It's a depressingly familiar outcome for our short-handed Bears, but I can't see any other result against an inspired Bruins team that is playing pretty well.
UCLA 73 California 60
The only thing we know for sure about the NCAA tournament is that Cal isn't going unless they cap this strange season with an even stranger miracle finish. The conference, however, looks to be good for six bids, barring collapses by the three teams who need a little help to make the field of 64. Here's our take on it before this week's action:
IN FOR SUREUCLA (23-3/12-2)
RPI: 1/AP: 4/ESPN: 4/Pomeroy: 6
Remaining schedule (wins in bold): Cal
, @ WSU, @ Washington
Probable seeding - #1
The UCLA/WSU game will be very important from a seeding perspective. We're guessing that the Cougars will beat UCLA in Pullman, and that could conceivably drop UCLA out of a one seed for a short time. We say "short" because we fully expect the Bruins to defend their Pac-10 Tournament championship at Staples in three weeks and enter March Madness as a deserving top seed. They remain the conference's best chance at a NC in 2007 by a long shot. The only teams that have impressed me more this year are North Carolina and Florida.How far will they go?
All the way to Atlanta.Washington State (22-4/11-3)
RPI: 24/AP: 9/ESPN: 11/Pomeroy: 22
Remaining schedule: @ Oregon, @ OSU, UCLA, USC
Probable seeding - #2 or #3
Most websites have WSU as a #3 seed, but we think they will finish strong and make a very good case for a #2 seed. If, as we expect, they finish 4-0 and then get to the Pac-10 championship game, they will finish 28-5, which to us says two seed. Of course 2 and 3 seeds are in the same end of a regional bracket, so the difference might not be that important.How far will they go?
I see WSU as a Sweet 16 team and nothing more. Teams with active, athletic front courts could give them problems. Outside shot at the Elite Eight.PROBABLY IN BUT COULD USE A WIN OR TWOArizona (17-9/8-7)
RPI: 11/AP: NA/ESPN: NA/Pomeroy: 18
Remaining schedule: @ ASU, @ Cal,
Probable seeding - #9
Their record is mediocre, but oh that RPI. How a 17-9 team can be #11 in the nation in RPI is beyond me - and calls the RPI formula into question, frankly. This isn't an underrated team that has played a tough schedule. This is an average team that is much less than the sum of its parts. I think they need the Cal win to feel comfortable about a bid, particularly given Arizona's history of under-achievement at Staples. If they collapse and go 1-3 the rest of the way, I don't think they get in, RPI or no. The committee has shown they'll ignore a relatively high RPI if a team struggles down the stretch.How far will they go?
As recently as early January I thought Arizona could make an Elite Eight run. Now we all know better - the Cats aren't very quick, and early signs of a defensive renaissance have evaporated during conference play. Is it conditioning, or is Lute losing his touch? Whatever the case, Arizona is good for one tournament win, tops - and that depends on what sort of opening game they draw.
RPI: 34/AP: 23/ESPN: 24/Pomeroy: 46
Remaining schedule: WSU, Washington, OSU
Probable seeding - #9
At the turn, we thought they might be an Elite Eight team. Now, they look...well, they look awful. They're a jump-shooting team that's a step slow on defense, and Maarty Leunen has vanished. Still, that amazing start will get them in the tourney barring a complete collapse down the stretch (and by complete, I mean losing every game).How far will they go?
The next four games will tell us a lot about the Ducks. Right now they look really tired and a prime prospect to go one-and-done.USC (19-8/9-5)
RPI: 60/AP: NA/ESPN: NA/Pomeroy: 39
Remaining schedule: Stanford, Cal, @ Washington,
Probable seeding - #7
The ASU loss really dinged an already-shaky RPI and put the Trojans in the position of needing to finish strong. I think they will, and it will be impossible for the committee to overlook a team with 22-plus wins that finishes third in the conference.How far will they go?
I'm gonna shake off that ASU loss and stick to my belief that USC could be a Sweet 16 team. Their big athletic wings are tough match-ups for lots of teams. Also, defense rarely slumps, and USC's is as good as any in the Pac-10.Stanford (17-8/9-5)
RPI: 38/AP: NA/ESPN: NA/Pomeroy: 49
Remaining schedule: @ USC, @ UCLA, ASU, Arizona
Probable seeding - #6
Stanford figures to finish fourth in the conference, which should be good enough to get in. Joe Lunardi has them at a five seed, which seems a bit high. Their season-ender with Arizona is huge - even more so if Cal can beat the Wildcats the previous Thursday. If they go 1-3 to finish the regular season, Stanford will need to win a game at Staples to get in.How far will they go?
Stanford's a really interesting team. On the one hand, they have the massive Lopez twins and Lawrence Hill, who constitute a pretty terrific front court. On the other hand, their back court is mediocre to poor. The CW is that guard play reigns in March, but it's more complicated than that - Stanford's chances will depend more than any other conference team on the strengths of the other teams in their bracket.NEED A LOT OF HELP
RPI: 80/AP: NA/ESPN: NA/Pomeroy: 65
Remaining schedule: @ OSU
, @ Oregon, USC, UCLA
If UW wins 3 of 4 (losing only to UCLA) and then makes it to the finals of the Pac-10 tournament, they would finish with 22 wins and have a fair argument despite the low RPI. Don't worry, they won't. California (14-12/6-8)
RPI: 66/AP: NA/ESPN: NA/Pomeroy 75
Remaining schedule: @ UCLA, @ USC, ASU
Cal's schedule is tougher than the Huskies, and the Bears would also need to win 3 of 4 and probably get to the conference final to have a good shot. The committee has tended to look at not just the teams' records but their potential to do damage in the tourney. That's where Cal might fall short, even compared with a team like Washington. And in the unlikely event that the Bears pull off the miracle finish, they'll still need to explain how they lost at home to San Diego with DeVon Hardin in the lineup.
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
As this article indicates
, the hippies have found an eighty-year old report written by an anthropologist from the University of Washington that sort of suggest that the area around the stadium might have been a Indian burial site. In reality, what the anthropologist in question found was a partial skeleton and a Mexican gold coin dating from the 19th century - but please don't pay attention to the facts.
After all, the facts don't really matter - the hippies have another interest group to drag up into the trees and yell into bullhorns. What they lack in gainful employment is more than matched, I'm sure, by their energy and enthusiasm for civil disobedience. Never mind that no one EVEN KNEW ABOUT THIS SO-CALLED REPORT until the lawyer for the hippies dug it up and shopped it around. It's still very sacred, I'm sure. Break out the smudge sticks and the burning sage, and let's party!
Sorry if you think I'm being flippant, but this is the worst sort of opportunism. This 1925 report has yet to be corroborated by any other source. Ken Lightfoot - who as the head of the UC Museum of Anthropology, knows a thing or two about the subject - is unimpressed and says the skeleton's ethnicity is undetermined. And besides, why have we heard nothing about this issue until a lawyer bankrolled by Panoramic Ave NIMBYs waved some old records in the faces of Indian activists? The original report was written eighty years ago, and no one seems to have cared about it until now...until a university project gives the activists a platform to get in the newspaper.
But here in Looking Glass Land, the facts don't matter. Volker and his ilk are playing liberal interest group roulette, and they just happened to land on the Indians this time. Next time it'll be the LGBT community, or perhaps the Aztlan crowd - after all, the Stadium really is Mexico's property, isn't it?
Besides, the activists should know that Cal would never build on an Indian burial ground. We've seen enough movies to know better...
As noted by Nestor at BN, UCLA can secure its first undefeated season at Pauley
since '74-'75 by sweeping the Bay Area schools. As Nestor further notes, the last time UCLA got this close to a perfect home season was 1995, when Cal blew by the eventual national champions on their home floor 100-93. The record books say that UCLA won that game, of course, thanks to Cash-n-Carry Bozeman, who passed more than a few ham sandwiches
Jelani Gardner's way.
He'll excuse us for not remembering that time fondly - you say the words "Jelani Gardner" and I begin twitching. But now we know the Bruins' motivation, and there's no reason to think that UCLA will take the Bears lightly. Also, Darren Collison is coming off of his best two-game stretch of the conference season and looks to be in better form than he was in the first meeting at Haas.
So what can Cal do? Install the West Virginia 1-3-1 over the next two days? Hope that a flu bug ravages Westwood? No, the best they can do is relax and hope everyone brings their A game offensively. To the extent UCLA ever struggles, it's when opponents take care of the basketball and hit their outside shots. Cal does the former better than all but ten teams in the country. Your NCAA leaders in turnover percentage
Butler (15.0); Houston (16.0); Washington State (16.0); VCU (16.1); UNLV (16.5); Bradley (16.6); Air Force (16.8); Virginia Tech (16.8); Seton Hall (16.9); Mississippi (16.9); Cal (17.1)
No worries there. As for the offensive side of things, Ubaka is the key. Sick with the flu, he played the worst game of his Cal career against UCLA at Haas; a healthy and inspired AU could do some interesting things with the smaller Collison in the post. As much as we like Alex Pribble's hustle on defense, Ben should consider limiting his minutes Thursday night. The Bears can't afford to play four-on-five with a UCLA team that makes its living grinding out wins in the sixties.
USC on Saturday is a different thing altogether. The Trojans, who are still my dark horse favorite to make a Sweet 16/Elite 8 run, lost inexplicably at Arizona State on Saturday. By ten points.
They shot 36% from the field and 28% from two. Taj Gibson didn't score a field goal in 37 minutes of play. The Sun Devils play pretty good defense (top 100 in adjusted efficiency), but USC simply didn't bring it to Tempe. The Trojans told the papers after the game
that they couldn't get into a good offensive flow:
"When we got up, we started rushing shots a little more than usual," said (Nick) Young, who had 11 points. "One shot, one rebound — they'd get the rebound and push it up. We didn't just settle down."
That's always been the risk for a team that doesn't employ a true point guard. Another troubling sign: USC had 16 turnovers against ASU, after enjoying a nice advantage against Arizona in Thursday's win (the Trojans had only 9 turnovers to Arizona's 16). Tim Floyd said after Saturday's loss that USC was "an NIT team." I don't think so, but they do need a weekend sweep at the Galen Center to feel better about their seeding.
So Saturday looks to be the better opportunity, but really Cal is playing with house money this weekend. No one expects much, so the Bears can relax and have a little fun. Who knows - maybe they'll steal a game in the process and help punch their post-season ticket.
FLIPPING THE SWITCH
It often happens in the freshman year... an 18-year old looks tentative, unsure of how to proceed with the ball in his hands. The game he dominated just a year ago now seems so much faster, a frenetic series of starts and stops. The freshman makes bad decisions - he forces the issue when discretion is called for, and then retreats into a shell as offensive opportunities pass him by. He looks uncertain.
This was a fair description of Patrick Christopher for his first twenty-five games at Cal. Christopher looked like he had all the athletic tools to compete at this level. But he looked truly lost on the court, and his decisions were rarely the right ones. Too often Chris drifted back into a passive role on offense, despite starting at the three spot for most of this year. His freshman year was a disappointment, despite the flashes of potential he would show once or maybe twice a game.
And then the switch flipped, about the same time as Chris started to struggle with a groin injury. The player who sparked Cal's upset of Oregon was confident on both ends of the court; against Oregon State on Saturday, he was as good as any Cal player this year. It's not just the numbers - 24 and 11 - but the way his decision-making has improved. Because of this sudden emergence, Cal can win games like Saturday's, in which Anderson and Ubaka can't find their shots.
His emergence has immediate implications - like Cal perhaps making the NIT - but I would guess that most Cal fans are already thinking about the potential of next year's team. If Christopher has indeed turned a corner, then the Bears will return another player who can create his own offense. Theo Robertson will likely slide back down to his natural position of small forward next year. Assuming that Hardin returns (not a sure thing) and Anderson plays the four, Jamal Boykin could also get minutes at the three. Does Christopher move down to the two guard and compete with Omar Wilkes, or does he get caught in a very busy front court rotation?
All good questions - and good problems to have going into '07-'08. For now we'll just be pleased that another freshman has stepped up to shoulder some of the offensive load for Cal. On to the Arizona schools - sweep and we're in the NIT. Split, and all bets are off.