Our sturdy Golden Bears are coming off a short turnaround for the final conference road trip of the season. Even though the starters all played heavy minutes and many of them required extended time at the trainer's table, I'm quite okay with how last Sunday went down. Whether our guys will be at full-strength and have the legs to deal with Oregon's relentless pressure is another question. Even more importantly, will ourguys will go into epileptic fits or try to claw their eyes out when they step out onto Phil Knight Hubris Court? I know that when I tried to watch some game film to scout our feathered foes from the north, my contact lenses tried to climb through my corneas and seek refuge in the vast recesses of my skull. There is no official word on whether Monty is having the guys wear 3D glasses all week while taking periodic acid hits to acclimate themselves.
You could write entire dissertations on the visual monstrosity that currently decorates their floor, the raging egos behind its construction, and the committee of color-blind dope fiends which did the design itself. But I simply don't have enough time or medication. Instead, let's look at the surprising Ducks and their formidable home record. They've won 6 of 8, including a sweep of the Washington schools. Despite being picked last in the Pac-10 in many pre-season polls, they currently reside tied for 4th place. Apparently, Coach Dana Altman knows his stuff.
When last we saw the Oregon Ducks in Haas Pavilion, we beat them in an ugly game, 85-77, behind a strong effort on the glass and a 30-17 advantage at the free throw line. Catron and Nared had strong games, 22/8 and 14/10 respectively. And, let's not overlook the onslaught of Garrett Sims. 9 points on 37% shooting...Oh how we could only hope to contain him. Previous scouting report here, with recaps here and here.
Since then, however, the Ducks have gone 4-1...?!? Are opposing teams getting distracted by the Oregon dance squad? Is Roboduck suiting up? Are their players emerging from the locker room in a giant egg? It's been all about a relentless pressure defense. By going 8-10 deep, the Ducks are able to pick up full-court, press, trap, go for steals, and then scramble back into a swarming zone. Opponents are either shooting a poor percentage (Wazzu - 26%, USC - 15% 3PG, OSU 37%) or coughing it up. (UW - 15 TO, OSU 19 TO)
Kenpom predicts a narrow Oregon win. Don't hurt me like that Kenny P! Boooooo!!!
Senior Center Joevan Catron has been their most consistent scorer and rebounder (15.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg). But on any given night, forward EJ Singler (11ppg, 5.6 rpg), or guards Malcom Armstead (7.6ppg, 4.2apg) and Jay-R Strowbridge (8.6 ppg) are all capable of lighting it up. They get plenty of production from their role players and bench with five more players all averaging between 4.8-7.7 ppg. (Sim, Loyd, Nared, Williams, Jacob)
Keys to the Game:
1) No Pressure: When we played last time, Cal started off strong by breaking Oregon's press and attacking before the defense could set itself. This lead to easy baskets inside and a double digit 1st half lead. When Oregon backed off, our offense stalled and it turned into an ugly grind-out affair. It's one thing to deal with the press at home. It's another thing entirely to be ready for a fired-up Duck team playing in front of rabid fans who are probably still nursing a grudge from the football season. We'll need to show composure early in order to weather their initial blitz. If we let things snowball into a turnover-fest that leads to easy transition baskets, this one could get really ugly, really fast.
2) Dictate Tempo: It will be interesting to see whether Monty instructs Jorge and Brandon Smith to push it when they have the chance, or whether he wants this one played at a more deliberate pace. Although Jorge and Smith both excel when they put pressure on the defense. Going up-tempo plays into the Duck's desire to turn this into a frantic, scrambling, sloppy type of game. With Kamp and MSF down low, we have the advantage in the half-court if we're patient enough to run our offense. They like to gamble and trap - if you can take care of the ball, there will be plenty of openings to exploit for easier shots.
3) Mano y Mano: After weeks of playing zone with varying results, the Bears shocked the world last Sunday by choosing to throwdown man to man against the bigger, more athletic Bruins. Will Monty go to the motivation well again and let the guys man up, or does he try to protect against fatigue and fouls with the expected 2-3 zone? I really liked how the guys looked in man. Not only was Jorge free to wreak havoc all over the court, but it seemed to inspire everyone to play with a hungry confidence. I think we go man again. (unless Jorge or Kamp/MSF get in foul trouble) Even if they have more depth, we match-up just fine with all of their guys one on one. With some tights, capes, and phony dialogue, you could probably pass off the upcoming Catron/MSF slugfest in the paint as a WWF undercard.
4) Fear No Evil: I am confident that our starters will be well-prepared for the pressure and the hostile crowd. What happens when our reserves enter the game is a bit more of a concern. With Jorge, Harper, and MSF all nursing minor injuries, and Crabbe still working his way back, we're going to need someone to step up when they need a breather. Although it might be a bit much to ask for bench production on the road, I would be content to have our young guys play smart and avoid careless turnovers.
So, you've got a short turnaround, your starters played heavy minutes, several key guys are banged up, and you're on the road in an incredibly hostile environment against a pressing team that plays out of its mind at home. Oh, and both teams know that a bid for post-season play is on the line. Yep. Here we go...
Looking purely at the numbers, it's a daunting task. But I don't think our guys care about past history or previous trends. It's just another game on a really, really ugly court. Kind of like a streetball game after a paintball tournament and a chemical spill. If we can turn this into a game of toughness and execution, I like our chances. Grab your mouthguard, tape up those joints, and let's turn the home crowd's boos into tears. Go Bears!
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