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Cal vs. Washington Hoops Preview: Battle for First in the Pac-10 AGAIN

When Cal last played Washington they were a battered, tired team. Jorge Gutierrez was still out, Markhuri Sanders-Frison played with back spasms, and Jerome Randle was slowed by a sore knee suffered at the very end of his dominating performance against Washington St. two nights prior. In the Thursday night game against the Cougars each Cal starter played at least 30 minutes, with Randle playing the full 40. So when the Bears came out sluggish against the fastest team in the Pac-10 and promptly got ran off the court in the first half, many Cal fans weren't particularly surprised.

So with a full week of rest, a (relatively) clean bill of health and playing in Berkeley for the first time in about 3 weeks, Cal fans will be expecting a decidedly different outcome in the 4th of 7 "Battle-For-First-Place-Most-Important-Game-of-the-Year" series. A major topic in the run-up to this game has been Washington's road struggles - The Huskies have lost every true road game this season by an average of 121 12 points and every Pac-10 road game by and average of 13 points. For whatever reason that futility doesn't comfort me because Washington has only played 5 true road games. As a loyally pessimistic Cal fan I can only assume that Washington's road record is a function of small sample size and that the Huskies will run all over the bears today and cruise to the conference title on the back of an easy end to their conference schedule. If UW knocks off Cal tonight, the most difficult game left on their schedule is on the road against WSU or at home against USC. It would very much be in Cal's best interest to knock a dangerous team with a generous schedule two games back with six to play.

So what do the Bears need to do to emerge with the win? Let's look at the numbers:

Here's the four factors from Cal's previous UW matchup:

It's pretty impressive to lose a game when you shoot more free throws than field goals. But Cal was in a big hole well before they were constantly getting to the line, and the Bears only hit 32-50 to prevent any comeback potential anyway. The game really swung on turnovers, as Cal couldn't hold onto the ball early in the game. Randle had 8 turnovers (out of Cal's 22 in total) in only 29 minutes - his average is 3.7 in 34 minutes. Let's all hope for a little regression to the mean!

And here's the season-long Ken Pomeroy ratings:

Oeff Deff Tempo eFG Opp. eFG ORB Opp. ORB TOV Opp. TOV FT/FGA Opp. FT/FGA
Cal 117.9 (6) 93.4 (63) 70.8 (46) 52.6 (45) 47.8 (130) 34.9 (98) 29.9 (54) 18.1 (52) 19.1 (251) 34.6 (245)

33.2 (83)

UW 109.4 (61) 91.2 (35) 75.1 (6) 48.1 (187) 46.7 (86) 39.0 (22) 30.5 (70) 17.4 (29) 23.1 (51) 44.1 (49) 50.4 (333)

Well, Washington (like Cal) is a solid if unspectacular team across the board, with the notable exception of a poor effective FG% and the habit of putting their opponents on the line too much. We saw Washington's propensity for fouling in Cal's last matchup. Hopefully this time Cal won't turn the ball over so much so they can take advantage of a free throw advantage. Frankly, this looks like a close match-up on paper. Kenpom says we'll win by 8. We'll see.

Alpha Dog: Quincy Pondexter. Pondexter is UW's most efficient scorer by far (124.8 ORtg) and he shredded Cal for 25 points last time out. Cal would be much better off focusing on Pondexter and taking their chances with Isaiah Thomas, who's shooting as often as Pondexter but at a much lower percentage. I'm guessing Theo will draw the defensive assignment, although it wouldn't surprise me if a few different Bears are given a chance.

So what are your predictions, Cal fans? Who emerges from this track race with the W?