Pac-12 Game of the Week: Stanford at CaliforniaPosted by AMurawa on January 29th, 2012
Stanford at California, January 29, 5:30 PM PST, FSN
The Big Game, basketball edition (part one), lost a bit of its luster last weekend when Stanford got swept by the Washington schools, but with California sitting tied atop the conference standings with Oregon, and with the Cardinal sitting just a game back, there is still plenty of importance to go around here.
For the Cardinal, after losing just one of their first 11 games – and that one to Syracuse at Madison Square Garden – the uptick in level of competition over the last few weeks has exposed them a little bit. After beating up on low-majors (like Bethune-Cookman and Central Arkansas) and mid-majors (like Fresno State and Colorado State), and even sneaking out some tough wins over bubble-minded high majors (Oklahoma State and North Carolina State), Johnny Dawkins’ club has lost four of its last nine games, with all four losses coming to teams ranked lower than #80 in the nation by Ken Pomeroy. Throw in some tight wins (a one-point win against UCLA, a four-overtime battle over Oregon State and even a slugfest W over Utah), and it is clear that despite the major strides this Stanford team has made this season, this is certainly not a team that is going to outclass conference opponents on a regular basis. Along the way, their once stellar efficiency numbers on both ends of the court have taken a significant hit — in their last four losses, Stanford has averaged just over one point per possession offensively, while giving up 1.16 PPP. In their first 11 games of the season, they only allowed more than one point per possession once (the NC State win), but in the last nine they’ve done so five times. Part of that is due to the fact that they’ve been facing better athletes. Where they once were able to outclass opponents on the glass, they’ve now been playing teams with their athletic equals, and the rebounding numbers have dipped. Likewise, guys like Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle have been unable to keep up their ridiculously hot shooting paces; Bright was 49% from three in non-conference play and is down to 37% in conference play while Randle has dipped from 42% to 36%.
Their opponent, the Golden Bears, have problems of their own. They’ve lost a couple of conference games to hot-shooting opponents (Oregon State and Washington State shot a combined 67.9% eFG against them), they’ve lost sophomore forward Richard Solomon for the season to academics, and they’re thin up front, relegated to trying to get significant minutes from former walk-on Robert Thurman along the front line. But still, they’ve got the deepest backcourt in the conference, led by senior guard Jorge Gutierrez, the heart and soul of the Golden Bear squad. Gutierrez does a little bit of everything for the Bears, from running the offense at times and creating for teammates to being the team’s primary defensive weapon to helping out on the defensive glass from time to time. But it is his backcourt mates Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs who have been the most efficient offensive players for Mike Montgomery this year. Crabbe is hitting 44.5% from deep and almost never turns the ball over and is a name that most college basketball fans know, but Cobbs has been even better, hitting 53.8% of his threes, rarely turning the ball over as well, but also handing out assists on almost 30% of his teammates’ hoops.
So, for the Cardinal to pull out the win Sunday evening, that’s where they have to focus their defensive efforts: controlling the California backcourt. Guys like Randle, Bright, Anthony Brown and defensive specialist Jarrett Mann have a full day ahead of them. If the Cardinal can fight the Bears to a draw in the backcourt, they’re in good shape. Up front, the Bears will primarily run senior Harper Kamp and freshman David Kravish out there, and while both are solid achievers, the Cardinal frontcourt of Josh Owens, Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis can take advantage of them. Owens is Dawkins’ best offensive player and has scored in double figures in 17 of the Cardinal’s 20 games. If Stanford can pound the ball inside to Owens early and often, not only will it suck in Cal defenders and open up the perimeter for shooters like Bright, Randle and Brown, but he could pile up fouls on that shorthanded Bear frontcourt. However, if the Bears can limit Owens without having to double-team, they should wake up Monday morning still in first place in the Pac-12.