Pac-12 Game Of The Week: California @ Oregon StatePosted by Connor Pelton on January 5th, 2012
We may only be two games into the conference season, but tonight will give us a good feel on who is a contender and who is a pretender in the Pac-12. The game that most fits that bill will take place tonight in Corvallis when 2-0 California meets 0-2 Oregon State. For the visiting Golden Bears, a loss won’t make or break their chances at a conference crown, but it could be listed as a bad loss on a tournament résumé that is sure to be on the bubble come March. On the other side is Oregon State, where a victory is crucial after being swept in Washington last week. For the Beavers to have any shot at an at-large into the NCAA Tournament, a 3-1 record over their next four games is a must. So of course, they could lose tonight and win their next three, but that is highly unlikely as Stanford and Arizona are on the horizon. Despite this being one of the best games of the week and boasting multiple talented players on each side, the game will not be televised or webcast. That means the winner may get a little national attention just from being on ESPN’s bottom line, but the loser would likely fall from the nation’s radar for a LONG time.
For the Beavers to get a win tonight they will need to rely on their defense. They have played three teams this season that are at Cal’s level offensively, and so far they are 1-2. The one win came against Texas, a game in which the Beavers were able to get out on multiple fast breaks after stepping into the Longhorn passing lanes. The Beavers would score a total of 100 points in a game where they actually didn’t shoot the ball that well, but they got the win because of their great defense. That is what they need to do here if they want to have a chance.
When the Beavers are on offense look for the Golden Bear defense to key in on Ahmad Starks and Roberto Nelson. Simply put, this game is going to come down to how well those two are shooting from behind the arc. Starks is averaging 13 PPG, and while his hot and cold shooting may make Beaver fans cringe at times, the Beavers need him to be shooting the rock well. Nelson is another story. Coach Craig Robinson likes to bring Nelson off the bench as soon as the Beavers need a spark, which is usually in the first five minutes. Against athletically challenged teams like Illinois-Chicago is where Nelson has his best games. He is a very spotty (at best) type of player, and only gets really hot when he is alone in a corner or a slow defense forgets about him. So if whoever is assigned to Nelson (most likely Justin Cobbs or Jorge Gutierrez) can stick with him on the perimeter, it will force Nelson to drive and dish instead of taking his own shot.
When California is on offense, the Beavers will deploy mainly man-to-man pressure. The man-to-man has been good for creating steals that lead to fastbreaks, but the truth is, it has done more harm than good for the Beavers. Both Washington and Washington State were able to exploit this defense by sending everyone but a shooter into or near the key. When the Beavs would pack it in, they would bring all five guys to help on a big man, usually Aziz N’Diaye or Brock Motum. The said big men would then kick the ball out to an open sharpshooter and bam, you can see how the Beavers lost these games. If the Beavers have addressed this problem in practice this week, it’s going to be tough for guys like Cobbs and Allen Crabbe to get good looks from behind the three-point line. But if the Beavs haven’t fixed it, it’s going to be a long night in Corvallis.