Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
The Fightin' Utes can thank the ghost of Kevin O'Neill. Inspired, no doubt, by his stellar example, USC's starting center Dwayne Dedmon and backup James Blascyzyk were suspended indefinitely for drunken brawling and "anti-Spokane" rhetoric after their recent loss to Washington State. I'll leave it to your fertile imagination as to what constitutes "anti-Spokane." (Haha, you're no Seattle?) Without the Dedmon, the Trojans found themselves without their best rebounder, shot-blocker and interior scoring option. Because they like to play a lot of four out, one in, the loss of their best post player meant that they had no answer in the paint to Utah's interior duo of Washburn and Loveridge. Throw in the fact that no one could slow down swingman Jarred DuBois, and the Trojans were left to cry into their beer.
Utah was type-cast throughout the year as a slow-paced team who tried to use solid defense to sustain their inconsistent offense.
It was an ugly game in Salt Lake when a sluggish Cal team let the Utes hang around before slowly pulling things out in the 2nd half. The game at Haas was more to script. Our Bears demonstrated from the opening tip that they were the better team on both ends and never allowed the game to be in doubt.
Although Cal swept the season series, all bets are off during the post-season. The Utes are riding a three game winning streak into the 2nd round which includes a sweep of the Oregon schools. This is a different Utah team now that their young players are playing with confidence and their team ball movement has improved.
The Bears should be well-rested and hopefully have had a solid refresher on Montyball during the long lay off. Whether this extended break means rust or a re-focused Cal team is the big question.
Depending on your favorite pundit, Cal is either on the bubble or a lock for the Big Dance. Let's just keep winning and let the chips fall where they may.
C Jason Washburn(Sr), 6'10, 242 lbs, 11.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg
F Jordan Loveridge(Fr), 6'6, 230 lbs, 11.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg
G Jarred DuBois(Gs), 6'3 172 lbs, 11.8 ppg, 3.1 apg
G Cedric Martin(Sr), 6'4, 203 lbs, 4.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg
G Glen Dean(Jr), 5'10, 170 lbs, 6.0 ppg, 2.4 apg
Our last preview can be found here:
Cal's Defense vs. the Utah Offense:
Utah's ball movement has steadily improved through the season as their turnovers have dropped and their assists have gone up. Even so, none of Utah's perimeter players are consistently proficient from deep. DuBois is their best all-around offensive player. He's more of a volume shooter than a sniper, but does shoot the best percentage from deep while still leading the team by a large margin in free throw attempts and makes. He's been red-hot lately and went off for 22 in their win against 'sc. If he's engaged, Crabbe is long enough to bother DuBois' shot and strong enough to stop easy forays into the paint. Wallace is also a good match-up here as long as our young frosh remembers not to get caught up on screens.
Washburn can be dangerous if given position down low, but fronting or zone will limit his touches. Fortunately, he's not as mobile or perimeter-based as the Furd bigs, so we can use Thurman to body him up as needed. Loveridge is an X-factor with his athleticism, and kept their team in the game last time out with his work on the offensive glass. Solomon and Kravish have to remember not to lose focus when boxing out. Overall, if the Bears focus and play with good discipline, Utah just doesn't have the firepower to have the edge here.
Cal's Offense vs. the Utah Defense:
Although the Utes have some shot-blocking threats in Washburn and Loveridge, they usually play more position-based defense. Somewhat similar to Colorado, they'll funnel you towards help in the paint and try to force you to put up contested threes. Knowing that they prefer to move their feet instead of reaching, we need to expect the help to come and be ready to make the easy play. We've seen Cal's offense enough to know that good shot selection and crisp execution are the way to go. Even during our winning streak, it was more of a defensive-fueled run than offensive virtuosity, so we'll need to be efficient and take advantage to push the tempo whenever we can. This is more of a mental match-up than a physical one. We have better players who have been playing better basketball. It's when we go off-script and stop trusting the offense that we get ourselves in trouble. Hopefully, the time off has let us shore up some of the sloppy cuts and other bad habits. It's whether we're focused, hungry, and bring the appropriate intensity out of the gate which will be more important than any X's and O's at this point.
Game Time: Thursday, March 14th, 6pm(PST)
TV: Pac-12 Networks
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