Conference leading Cal is coming to Gill tonight at 7:30 (live TV on FSN), for a pivotal Pac-10 contest for both mens' teams. Additionally, the OSU women visit Berkley in a rematch of the double overtime classic that was one of the best games of the season.
Following the "jump" are the Golden bloggers' responses to my questions that delve into depths of the status of the Bears.These are intriguing games, because, like so many teams in the Pac-10, both of Cal's teams have been inconsistent, looking great at times, and not at others.
1) The mens' team had a couple of the more remarkable wins of late last weekend over the Washington schools. Defensively, Washington got about the same amount of points in their loss as they did when the Huskies blew Cal out of Hec Edmundson. What adjustments did the Bears employ to break not just Jerome Randle, but really the whole Cal offense, loose for such big nights?
Firstly, the game was on a Thursday rather than a Saturday. When Cal went to Seattle, this followed the worst possible turnaround--a late game in Cougartown, where our four seniors (Jamal Boykin, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson, and Randle) all played nearly wall-to-wall. That was followed by a long drive the next day to Seattle, a short shootaround the next night, and then a noon tipoff on Saturday. They might as well have played the game five on ten, or with actual huskies on the floor trained to attack blue. Every Bear starter except Christopher looked sluggish from start to finish, and we got mauled.
The rematch at Haas contained no such fatigue issues; they also managed to play the Huskies this time around with Jorge Gutierrez and with an ineffective Markhuri Sanders-Frison (back spasms), and we showed why we were the experienced team. Great defensive effort, contested shots, lots of transition baskets, good quality looks at the basket. Yeah, they got to 80, but it was only after the refs turned on the Whistle-meter that forced them to stop play every thirty seconds for free points.
2) What happened that sparked the sudden late-game explosion against Washington St. that blew the game open?
Better defense and a sudden change in how the refs were calling the game. WSU (well, mostly Klay Thompson, who scored 23 before the break) absolutely blitzed Cal in the first half, and only excellent 3 point shooting kept Cal in it. In the 2nd half Cal clamped down on Thompson (only 5 point in the 2nd half), WSU started turning the ball over on every other possession, Cal scored a few points in transition, and benefited from getting to the line when the refs started calling what may or may not have been fouls on WSU that they didn't in the first half.
Even better, the randomness of Pac-10 reffing led to WSU's coach picking up the most ill-timed technical possible, helping to stretching Cal's 1 point lead into 8 in about 30 seconds of insanity. The Cougs basically folded their tent after that, and Cal enjoyed a 15-0 run to end the game.
3) What does CGB see as the minimum requirements for the Golden Bears to make the NCAA tournament? Can they get there if they don't at least make it to the conference championship game?
Well, winning the tournament would be nice, and is definitely possible, but if the Bears go 4-1 in their final five and win the conference with a decent cushion over everyone else, that could be enough. At least that's what Andy Katz said when he attended one of our games, and who am I to quibble with the Kool Katz?
Cal is currently ranked 16th in Pomeroy, and 23rd in RPI. Our four OOC losses are to the current #1, #5, #9 and #12 teams in the country, and we were only at full-strength for the Kansas defeat (Theo Robertson was out for three of them). Three of our conference losses came in the final minute, one coming down to the final second. It's not like we're a great team, but we've had plenty of misfortune this season and have taken care of business otherwise.
Unless we do something horrid, like, oh, get swept in Oregon, I'd say we have a good shot at an at-large bid. But of course the halftime score will be OSU 27 Cal 19 tonight and I'll spend most of my time breaking things.
4) Oregon St. has been a tougher than average challenge for Cal during the Robinson era. What does CGB see as the primary reason for this? Is there something other teams should borrow from the matchups with the Beavers that has been overlooked?
Probably because the Beavers play a type of defense best suited for 1955? There's a reason the NBA doesn't have zone defenses, and Oregon State hoops exemplifies this--ugly, unathletic, turnover-happy basketball. Extend the clock, minimize the possessions, keep the scoring down, pressure the guards. It's good strategy of course, and I applaud Craig Robinson for doing what he has to do win basketball games, but man. Anytime an OSU opponent can't shoot well, it's anyone's ballgame.
Matchup wise, the 1-3-1 zone is good at pressuring the guards and trapping the zone offense we run...we don't have anyone in the post we can dump the ball into for easy points, and the Beavers have been very good at reacting to our ball movement. Defensively, we don't generally zone OSU back, allowing opportunities for the Beavers to run their psuedo-Princeton style attack, hitting the backdoor cuts as Cal's defenders get confused trying to scramble catching up to the passes and leave someone wide open
Now Cal has generally been very good against zone defenses, and we did just enough to hold off OSU in Haas. Gutierrez was only at about 40% in that one, so he could be the X-factor as he gets closer to his peak form.
5) Lastly, Cal has not used a lot of bench minutes. How comfortable is CGB with this, or how worried are they, especially in the event of foul trouble?
The good news is that Cal is led by 4 seniors who are generally pretty smart about avoiding foul trouble - I can only remember one or two games this year when it was even a minor issue. It might become an issue as Mike Montgomery asks more and more out of Jorge Gutierrez - Jorge isn't usually called on to play 30-35 minutes and he tends to pick up cheap fouls. The bigger worry is fatigue - Last year Cal played with a similar rotation and our players seemed tired at the end of the year, stumbling out of the Pac-10 and NCAA tourneys after only one game. Maybe I'm reading too much into random chance, but a couple blowouts that allow Jerome Randle to only play 25 minutes would be nice.
Lately Monty has been playing a rotation that's at best 7 deep (Randle, Christopher, Boykin, Robertson, Sanders-Frison, Gutierrez and Amoke). Cal fans would love it if a Nikola Knezevic, DJ Seeley or Max Zhang could contribute 15 minutes. But with a conference crown on the line we're not expecting it.
1) For the women, it appears from the WSU box score that there were no serious lingering effects of Alexis Gray-Lawson's ankle injury she played thru in the Washington overtime game. What is Alexis Gray-Lawson's status heading into Thursday's game?
I haven't heard anything to indicate that Alexis Gray-Lawson won't be ready, and I'd be shocked if she didn't play. The concern for Cal fans is that her effectiveness and/or mobility will be limited. Lexi is typically a good jump shooter, but if she losses her ability to drive the ball, attack the basket, and draw fouls, her game, and Cal's offense as a whole, will be severely limited. Putting it simply, Cal needs Gray-Lawson at or near her best to win most games.
2) What did UCLA do to shut her down so well, given how uncontrollable she generally has been?
For a longish breakdown of what UCLA did to completely shut Cal's offense down, read this post: (http://www.californiagoldenblogs.com/2010/2/9/1299313/cal-womens-week-in-review-the). To keep a long story short, UCLA had a deliberate strategy of trapping to frustrate Cal's guards, and the focus of their trapping was Gray-Lawson. Eliza Pierre or Natasha Vital typically bring the ball up the court and look to Gray-Lawson. When she received a pass on either wing two UCLA defenders would immediately trap her. She was double teamed nearly every time she touched the ball. UCLA dared Cal to pass the ball well enough out of the double teams and attack, but Cal was unable to do so.
3) Given her importance, what might Cal have in store to shield her from fouls a little, and ensure her maximum effectiveness offensively, and late in the game?
Well, the fouling situation with Washington was a little fluky, in part because 1) her 2nd and 3rd fouls were both a little questionable 2) Gray-Lawson played a little recklessly after picking up her 2nd foul. 3) One foul came on a rebound, the other during the full court press, so they weren't drawn by UW as much as they were questionable decisions by Gray-Lawson. Having said that, attacking her on offense is one potential strategy. She might be Cal's best on-ball defender, but if Gray-Lawson is guarding Rhea and she can draw fouls the way she did against Cal in Corvallis, Cal could be in big trouble.
How many wins does CGB think will be needed to make the tournament, and do they see that many wins on their schedule? Or are they already playing to position themselves in the Pac-10 tournament?
I think the only way Cal makes the NCAAs without winning the Pac-10 tourney is if they win out. That would be entirely possible were it not for Cal's final game of the season, when Stanford comes rolling into Berkeley. Cal doesn't have a big win on their resume, and they have one unforgivable loss to San Jose St. (5-19, 1-10 in the WAC). So unless they impress the committee by knocking off the 'furd they'll have to catch lightning in a bottle at the Galen Center. And since Cal matches up horribly with UCLA, I don't have much confidence about winning 3 in a row. But you never know...