Pac-12 Game of the Week: California @ WashingtonPosted by AMurawa on January 19th, 2012
California @ Washington, January 19, 5:30 PM PST, ROOT Northwest
The Golden Bears head north to Washington tonight in a battle that should help sort out the pecking order at the top of the conference, and both teams come into the big game a little bit shorthanded. For Cal, they’ve lost sophomore forward Richard Solomon for the remainder of the season when he was declared academically ineligible, while the Huskies will be without second-leading scorer C.J. Wilcox, whose absence is a little less final – he’s out in the short-term with a stress fracture in his hip. But there are still plenty of talented players on either end of the court who should make this an exciting game.
Washington won both games in this series last season, and by an average of over 31 points per game, so this Golden Bear team which is made up of much the same personnel, will need to prove they can hang with the Huskies’ up-tempo style. Last year, the two games between these teams averaged 75.5 possessions per game (with Washington averaging 1.33 points per possession in those games), and this year Mike Montgomery’s team has struggled in uptempo games again. So far this season, Cal has only played in four games that featured more than 70 possessions, and they’ve lost three of those – and by an average of over 20 points per game.
Given that the Bears are so guard-oriented, it is surprising that they struggle so much in the open court, but really, athleticism is not the strength of this team. Defensively, they like to lock you down in the halfcourt, pack it in and make you take tough shots over their defense. They’ve got enough size on the perimeter to challenge three-point shooters, and they send all five players to the defensive glass. Offensively, they don’t really have any one player that can break down a defender on a consistent basis, but their guards – Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs, especially – are excellent from long range, while Jorge Gutierrez is a guy who just seems to get it done anywhere on the floor. And they even get Brandon Smith back after several missed games due to a concussion.
Cal will need all of those guards in order to keep up with Washington’s backcourt. Freshman guard Tony Wroten and sophomore wing Terrence Ross will account for most of the scoring, and in Wilcox’s absence, there may now be enough shots to go around to keep them both happy. And, ever-steady junior point guard Abdul Gaddy will be sure to find those shots for them. But where Cal’s opposition can really take advantage of them is up front, and while there aren’t a lot of polished offensive frontcourt players on this Husky squad, the trio of Darnell Gant, Desmond Simmons and Aziz N’Diaye are all accomplished offensive rebounders. If you like to keep an eye on the battle of the boards, this matchup should be fun – Washington is 20th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, while Cal is 17th in defensive rebounding percentage. Who will break?
However, the fact is, the Huskies aren’t a very good offense in the halfcourt. They’ve played four games this season with less than 66 possessions, and they’re 2-2 in those, with one of the wins being a squeaker over a dreadful Utah team. Their best offensive players – Wroten, Ross, Gaddy – they’re all at their best in a wide open affair. In the halfcourt, if their opponent can keep them off of the offensive glass, the Huskies can struggle to score consistently. Further, they’ve had some problems defending in the halfcourt; the book on Washington is that if you can make them guard for 20 seconds or more, they’ll break down.
So, the battle lines are clear. For the Golden Bears to give themselves the best chance of coming away with a win here, they need to control the pace, keep Washington in the halfcourt, clean the defensive glass, and ugly things up. The goals for Lorenzo Romar‘s team are almost the opposite: Speed it up, play end-to-end basketball, make an impact on the offensive glass, and play the crowd-pleasing exciting style they’ve come to be known for. For basketball purists, this is an almost perfect clash of competing styles.