Saturday's win over UW was so epic that we needed another post, appropriately bringing our total to three, one for each overtime. You can read Ragnarok's immediate reaction here or my slightly less coherent recap here. If you don't want to watch the whole game here, check out Danzig's highlight reel or watch the end of each overtime (and the second OT is the best).
I suggested it after the win over Arizona, but a second Pac-10 player of the week award in a row probably begs for more than suggestion: Patrick Christopher is our most complete player since at least Brian Wethers or Joe Shipp, and possibly before (Ed Gray?). Again, he is not the smooth offensive player that Anderson is, nor is he the powerful scorer and rebounder that Powe is, but let's remember that Anderson is below average defensively, and Powe struggles a bit passing out of the block and with quick offensive players. Christopher defends, he rebounds, he scores - hell, he did all three in the final sequence of the third overtime, keeping his position and forcing a difficult shot after not letting the smaller, quicker Justin Dentmon get by him in the lane, then skying to secure the tipped rebound, and finally sinking two free throws with less than a second left to give Cal a 3 point lead.
A ruthless Christopher dunks on this special little guy
Christopher is a great finisher within 10 feet, our best defender, and our most athletic player. He has markedly improved his outside shot and ball handling, which are crucial for his pro potential. At his height, he'll need to play the 2-guard in the NBA, and because he lacks ideal quickness for the position, he will need to make opponents respect his three point shot in order to break them down off the dribble. He doesn't have Randle or Robertson's shot yet, but he made some tough three pointers against UW and is hitting on 41% of his threes, up from 33% last year. His free throw percentage has gone from 69% as a freshman and 79% as a sophomore to 87% this year. James Harden will be a top 5 pick this year, and Darren Collison will be an All-American, but through two weeks of conference play, Christopher has been named Pac-10 player of the week both times. If the season ended today, he would be Pac-10 player of the year.
As mentioned previously, UW leads the nation in rebounding margin at around +12 per game, which poses problems for teams without a serious lack of front court depth. Not only did Cal out rebound UW by three, 42 to 39, but, incredibly, they did so with only a combined seven rebounds from their starting center and power forward, Jamal Boykin and Jordan Wilkes. Who picked up the slack? You guessed it: Patrick Christopher, with 11.
UW has had difficulty shooting free throws under Lorenzo Romar, and it again played a major role in a close loss. They shot only 67%, compared to Cal's 76%, and the major culprit was star senior forward Jon Brockman, who hit only 2 out of 8. He missed his last four attempts, two with a five point lead at the end of regulation, and two with the score tied and less than a minute left in the third overtime. In Cal's 79-75 win in Seattle last year (when Christopher was once again the hero, burying a step back three to break a tie score with less than a minute to go), Cal hit 87% of their free throws while the Huskies converted a paltry 44%. The good news, Husky fans? Jon Brockman hasn't gotten worse, as his 1-4 night a year ago matched Saturday's 25%
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Jerome Randle struggled last weekend, facing great team defensive and senior point guard Taylor Rochestie at WSU, and small and comparably quick guards at UW. Fortunately, this weekend presents a cure: cuddly Mitch Johnson and the Stanford Cardinal
Naked mole rat or Stanford point guard?
Stanford beat Cal twice last year, but the two (literally) big reasons for their victories are gone: Brook and Robin, the androgynous Lopez twins, are off curling their hair in the NBA. Mitch Johnson had good numbers against Cal last year, going for 16 points and 7 assists in a five point win at Haas Pavilion, but stats only tell part of the story. Johnson "earned" most, if not all of his assists by feeding Brook Lopez on the low block and scored his points when the entire Cal defense collapsed to defend the seven foot twins. On the defensive end, Randle was so effective breaking down Johnson off the dribble and penetrating the defense that the Cardinal was forced to try back-up guard Drew Shiller; Randle drew four fouls on Shiller in nine minutes. Without the Lopez twins to pass to, I highly doubt Mitch Johnson will match his offensive numbers from last year's games. Jerome Randle, however, should find Saturday's game much more to his liking, as there is no one on the Cardinal roster who can match his quickness.
Stanford is reeling a bit at 1-3 after dropping both games in Washington by a single point. Here's a little insult to injury, thanks to our good friends at CougCenter:
I don't want to jinx our team, which nobody expected to be sitting here at 4-0, but our next three games are against Stanford, Oregon State, and Oregon, who are a combined 2-10 in conference. I should also point out that, of our previous four games, only home against Arizona could be called an easier match-up than the most difficult of our next three, Saturday at Maples. Considering the luck typical of Cal Athletics, I've probably said too much already.