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Cal Looks for a Crucial Sweep of the Oregon Schools

As exciting as the football news has been lately
, we're months away from seeing what all these changes will mean for our football team. No such luxury with the roundball. It's crunch time for our Golden Hoopsters.

The Bears have shown resolve in their last four victories by holding off solid Arizona State and Washington squads and coming back from huge deficits to knock off Wazzu and UCLA. Now they come to what amounts to a trap road trip against the Oregon schools, neither of which is in contention for anything. it'll be important to keep the momentum going and not lose focus against two of the weaker teams in the conference, both of whom will be chomping at the bit to score an upset on the current #1 in the conference. Any loss at this point would dim our at-large chances, but a loss to THESE schools (Pomeroy ranks them as the two worst teams in the conference) would make winning the Pac-10 tournament almost a necessity. A sweep here would greatly aid our cause for a bid; anything less could suck. 

The Bears themselves are boosting with confidence (Patrick Christopher is already calling for the sweep), which to the common Cal fan reeks of DOOOOOOOOOM. Obviously we're happy PC is confident in his team's ability to deliver on the road, but what about us Patrick? You have no idea how nervous you just made a thousand Internet dorks diehard Cal fanatics.

Hopefully Monty has them thinking in the present rather than looking ahead to the dream of a conference title.

As the Bears strive for the school's first conference title in 50 seasons, energy level has been a good barometer for their performances.

``With us, it's understanding that less than our best is going to get us in trouble,'' Montgomery said. ``There's the key. It doesn't guarantee anything, but it goes a long way.

``We may have to win the rest of our games to win this thing. We're going out with that in mind.''

Thanks to a light courseload for most of the players on the team, including Jamal Boykin, the team does seem like they're coming together and playing with a great deal more focus and energy than they have in earlier weeks or in the fall semester.

"I just want to make sure I did my part," Boykin said. "I'm icing my body after practice, making sure I'm eating right and getting more sleep, spending more time after practice shooting, getting in the weight room a little earlier so I can get a better weight routine going. If I'm not doing some form of stretching, icing, and taking a protein drink, I break down harder than some other guys.

"I'm not necessarily saying that's gonna have me with 20 and 10 every game, but it can be the difference in getting a loose ball."

It does look like the Bears are playing much fresher than they did at the start of conference play. Fans can forget how hectic the first few weeks of a semester can be trying to juggle courses and getting schedules straight, and that our athletes struggle with these everyday issues just as much as anyone else. As things have settled down, it does appear that our guys look more rested, more on their game, and most importantly, highly resilient.

We'll see if it lasts into the trips to Corvallis and Eugene.

I have a confession to make: I hate Oregon State hoops. I hate playing them. I hate their turgid offense, which basically runs that backdoor Princeton set every freaking game (and Monty, who's historically been too stubborn to ever zone this team up, ends up giving up frustrating layup after layup to a Beaver offense that can't make a jump shot to save its life).  I hate that awful 1-3-1 zone set, which was probably invented by some old white dude who hated basketball and wanted to torture fans of the game by turning the sport into an exercise in hot potato. As someone who's supposed to cover the team, watching Cal-OSU is like getting your wisdom teeth yanked--a necessary exercise, if somewhat unsavory.

Obviously, I begrudge Craig Robinson and his players nothing--their talent will never be great in Corvallis, and if that's the way they can scrape out wins, so be it. But as a fan of the game, it hurts my eyes everytime I see the Bears struggle moving the ball around against a defense that allows you to stick a man in the paint . Maybe it's just my pro hoops worldview (where zone defense is rarely played, and the 1-3-1 is barely used), but my idea of fun basketball isn't a "first to fifty" turnoverfest. If someone wants to contend otherwise, be my guest.


Look for Seth Tarver's defense to be the key in trying to stop the ball against Randle, and for Cal to continue to look mighty uncomfortable against the defense from hell. For some reason they seem to dismiss Gutierrez entirely..hmmm...

On the subject of Randle, and how difficult it would be to shut him down Thursday, Haynes said, "it's pretty hard to stay in front of him but Seth at the top of 1-3-1 has closed him down with his size and length. ... Seth is quick for his size (6-5), too. It's kind of hard trying to dribble through two or three players, let alone trying to pass the ball over Seth who is leading the league in steals.''

And this was Haynes' comment about Gutierrez:

"He's one of those guys that likes to dribble through people.

"To be honest, him being inserted into the starting lineup kind of helps us, because he hasn't been successful against our zone. He's one of those guys, as soon as you put pressure on him you can make him cough up the ball. ... there's a couple players (on Cal) who don't like playing against a zone, you can tell. When they have the ball they're uncomfortable with it. ... he's one of those players who likes to get up a head of steam, penetrate, and get other guys involved. That helps (us) when somebody's trying to dribble through three players and make a play.''

Indeed, Oregon State does seem to give Cal all sorts of fits with this dark art of zone defense they practice. Lots of guys on this team love to dribble into the paint, drive inside and keep on moving the ball on the perimeter; the Beavers provide the perfect antidote with the 1-3-1, trapping guys on the perimeter, forcing tougher passes, and closing off dribbling lanes when guys try to drive to the basket. Building the Dam will have more on the Beaver perspective later today in our Q&A.

chowder was not pleased with the way Cal reacted against Oregon State's defense in January.

The Bears looked terrible when OSU started trapping and pressuring them. Everyone looked to give Randle the ball, then did nothing afterwards. He’d get the ball past mid-court and find three defenders waiting for him. One guarding the drive to the hoop, one the pass to the corner, and the other the pass over the middle. At 5’-8" he can’t pass over the trap, so someone has to go to the ball and help him out. Cal must have gone 4-5 minutes without a field goal, not because they were missing shots, but because they couldn’t keep the ball long enough to shoot the thing.

We've gone 1-2 against this horrid incarnation of Beaver Fever, and I'd be equally happy to come up with a win by 1, by 30, or by anything in between. Just beat these guys and get on the bus to Eugene.

Oregon concerns me less, only because the Ducks have been a total mess. Matt Daddy of Addicted to Quack points out the things his team has been struggling with.

Dunigan brings the ball down low when he is on the block and ends up with way too many turnovers.  Humprey is lazy with the ball in his hands and dribbles too far away from his body allowing for too many knock aways and steals.  Porter has no concept of time and possession or what a good shot is inside the offense and outside of the offense.  Jacob is too lax in blocking out and rebounding.  Teondre loses his man on defense a lot allowing too many offensive rebounds.  Sim cannot make a post pass on a consistent basis.  Armstead plays defense too high allowing his man to go by him a lot easier.

Now, clearly the Ducks are capable of springing an upset, especially if Cal wins big tonight and they underestimate their Saturday foe. However, unlike their disciplined OSU counterparts, Oregon prefers the man to man game a lot more, and the Bears have a team that craves the one-on-one matchups.

Tajuan Porter is currently in a shooting slump, which should make all of you at home worried that he'll explode for a 11 for 13 night on Saturday where he puts up 30.

Entering the season, the Ducks felt the inside-outside game of Porter and Michael Dunigan, along with new cogs Malcolm Armstead, Jeremy Jacob and Jamil Wilson would make for great offensive improvement. But teams have been keying on Porter and Dunigan, Kent said, keeping both in a state of season-long frustration.

"Everybody, everybody runs at him,'' Kent said of Porter. "Everybody. Everybody's scouting report is T.P. Whether everybody here thinks he's struggling, he's struggling for a reason. It's everybody's scouting report, to shut down those two guys.''

Porter said he didn't think having guys run at him was too big a deal or too different from the norm.

"I've been shooting those shots all my career, with people running at me,'' he said. "It's just basketball. Sometimes we players make it harder than what it is.''

It'll be interesting to see if Jorge gets most of the play to try and shut down Porter. Jorge did not play Oregon in their first meeting.

The strategy on Dunigan probably won't change at all--the Bears will likely guard him straight up as they did in their first matchup.

Going to Dunigan on the block was a challenge because Cal's game plan was to guard him straight up and he couldn't get the ball in the hoop. He was off balance a few times but mostly just got pushed off and couldn't keep his position down low. When his shots did go up, they weren't true and most of his points came off of offensive rebounds and put backs. I liked the strategy because it looked like it would be effective going into the game and it's refreshing to have a true post presence. When that guy doesn't cause double teams however, and can't make the shots, we pay the price.

If Oregon wants to be successful, I'd imagine they'd need optimal performances from both of these two guys against what will probably be a beaten up Cal squad coming off a bruising contest to Oregon State. If Dunigan can make noise down low on Boykin and MSF, that opens up everyone else to get their looks and make big shots.

Cal knows what they have to do to finish the season. Five wins clinches the first Pac-10 title in fifty years. Time to get the first two. GO BEARS!


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