Fresh off an underdog Sweet Sixteen run at Tennessee, California head coach Cuonzo Martin got a different taste of the national spotlight with his new program by beating Syracuse in its home away from home, Madison Square Garden. The Golden Bears, led by a trio of guards who accounted for 48 of the team’s 73 points, relentlessly attacked and picked apart the Syracuse 2-3 zone defense with quick passing and sharp shooting. While many spent the next 24 hours attributing the win to Syracuse’s disappointing performance rather than Cal’s own doing, there was no denying the host of talented players Martin had in his hands. The plan was to take this newfound momentum and showcase the shooting prowess of Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird.
Texas was having none of it. And neither was senior forward Jonathan Holmes. Head coach Rick Barnes made his game plan clear from the start: Attack the middle and force Cal’s guards off the perimeter. This meant more interior passes to the Bears’ less talented forwards, and unlike Syracuse, whose big men were mostly inexperienced or physically soft, Texas has a wealth of size and talent in the frontcourt. As a team, Texas recorded 16 blocks in the two preceding games, and for a California team with just two players over 6’6″ receiving meaningful minutes, that meant trouble.