UCLA has had some crazy luck against the Bears over the last few years. Just last year UCLA won in overtime when a bad pass was miraculously deflected right into the path of UCLA's only competent player with the Bears up one. Of course, there's this little rule-bending incident. And of course, UCLA won earlier this year when Cal perfectly defended Lazeric Jones's desperation fadeaway, only to have the ball bounce around in such a fashion that Richard Solomon couldn't pull down the board.
This will all sound like sour grapes, and that's because it is. UCLA already has talent and good coaching. That they have a knack for beating Cal with a little assist from lady luck only adds to the pain. Tomorrow night Cal has the chance to exact a great deal of revenge, because a win would significantly damage UCLA's Pac-10 title hopes. With Arizona playing Washington tonight, UCLA might have the chance to move into a first place tie. Or they could finish the week two games out of first place with just four to play. I think we can all agree which version we prefer.
Unfortunately, it's hard to see Cal having a chance if Allen Crabbe is unable to go. We have had two games to see how the Bears perform without him, and it's been pretty ugly. Two hideous first half performances and only intermittent offensive success characterized both games. I'd also argue that both WSU and USC were hardly at their best but both still managed to beat the Bears despite some last minute craziness in both games. So it's simple: without Crabbe, the Bears are flying off to Oregon on a 5 game losing streak. Put a 100% Crabbe back in the lineup and Cal has an excellent chance.
Now, we all know that last time around Crabbe was neutralized for 36 minutes against the defense of Malcolm Lee before exploding when Lee fouled out. But if Allen doesn't play that probably means that Lee is on Jorge, which potentially means even less production from our struggling backcourt. It's clear that even if Crabbe is covered he forces defenses to account for him and spaces the offense better. Also, he's an excellent rebounder for an off-guard and Cal clearly missed that on the defensive glass on Thursday. I have faith in Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp to get their points against Reeves Nelson, Josh Smith and Tyler Honeycutt, but those points won't be enough unless Cal's guards bring something to the table.
Defensively, well, it's just going to be ugly because Cal hasn't had a good defensive game in quite some time. Recently, Washington, Arizona and USC have all taken advantage of the soft spot in Cal's zone - the weakside corner three. So it's nice to know that UCLA is one of the worst 3 point shooting teams in the Pac-10. We'll just have to cross our fingers and hope that the open 3's that UCLA will get go clank. Since they last met Lee and Lazeric Jones have picked up their offensive game, and it will be up to Jorge, Brandon Smith and (hpoefully) Crabbe to keep them from penetrating and dishing to Smith and Nelson.
Note: The following chart concept has been blatantly stolen from mgoblog.
|Cal eFG% v. UCLA Def eFG
|Cal Def eFG% v. UCLA eFG%
|Cal TO% v. Ore UCLA TO%
|Cal Def TO% v. UCLA TO%
|Cal OReb% v. UCLA DReb%
|Cal DReb% v. UCLA OReb%
|Cal FTR v. UCLA Opp FTR
|Cal Opp FTR v. UCLA FTR
|Cal AdjO v. UCLA AdjD
|Cal AdjD v. UCLA AdjO
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc.
Cal and UCLA actually have a pretty similar statistical profile, with the caveat that UCLA is generally just slightly better across the board. Both teams really like to shoot free throws, and neither team can force a turnover to save their life.
UCLA's big advantage? Field goal percentage defense. Unfortunately for the Bears, Howland has finally convinced the Bruins to buy into his system of suffocating, physical man-to-man defense after a lost year. Perhaps at home, against a team as recklessly aggressive as the Bears, that will result in 30 or so free throws. That's what I'm hoping, at least.
As for some key areas to look at as barometers? Cal's defensive rebounding has been great all year, but UCLA really makes a living on the offensive glass behind Josh Smith, who according to Kenpom leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. Aren't we all thrilled that he's just a freshman? It's imperative to keep UCLA off the offensive glass, because the Bears are likely to allow a high shooting percentage and they aren't going to be forcing many turnovers either. Foul trouble will likely be huge in both directions: Cal wants to keep Markhuri on the floor for his defensive rebounding prowess while UCLA wants Smith to get as many minutes as possible. Both are amongst the most foul prone players in the conference, so if one can draw a few fouls on the other early it could swing the game.
I'm not sure if this section will be a permanent fixture in my game previews or if I'll save it for special occasions. In either case, a home game against UCLA after a four game losing streak filled with gut-punches qualifies either way. So: