To quote the great Yogi Berra, "It's like deja vu all over again." And it is. Cal, coming off a big win, faces Arizona in a game away from home. You can read my thoughts from a week ago here. There are two differences from the matchup last week. One, we got smacked around by Arizona last week. Secondly, this is neutral site, which probably doesn't mean anything, but stranger things have happened.
There is precedent for an upset of this magnitude. A young Cal team, anchored by an all-Pac-10 point guard and an excellent forward, pulled an upset on a top ranked UCLA team through grit, hustle, blue gatorade, and Neil Everett finding multiple ways to mispronounce "Ayinde Ubaka." Mostly it involved shutting down Arron Afflalo, making threes, and forcing UCLA to keep up. That UCLA team went to the Final Four that year, which may be the endgame for Arizona at this rate.
Arizona is heavily favored in this game, and they should be. We've lost to them by an average of 31 points. But, as David Kravish has said, it's pretty hard to beat a team three times in a season. This might just be the chance. Plus it would be fun to see the Arizona twitter reaction. They can certainly turn feisty quickly.
G T.J. McConnell (Sr.) 6'1" 195 lbs 9.7 PPG, 6.0 APG
G Stanley Johnson (Fr.) 6'6" 225 lbs 14.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG
F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (So.) 6'7" 215 lbs 11.1 PPG 6.7 RPG
F Brandon Ashley (Jr.) 6'8" 230 lbs 11.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG
C Kaleb Tarczewski (Jr.) 7'0" 235 lbs 9.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG
G Gabe York (Jr.) 6'3" 180 lbs 9.1 PPG, 1.3 APG
G Elliot Pitts (So.) 6'5" 180 lbs 3.6 PPG, 1.2 RPG
C Dusan Ristic (Fr.) 7'0" 240 lbs 3.6 PPG, 2.1 RPG
There isn't too much that's new from last time. All these guys are athletic, talented, and in all likelihood peeved that they got snubbed at the conference awards. TJ McConnell should have been Player of the Year. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson should have been the Defensive Player of the Year. You can get the gist. This team preys on getting the ball inside, and when a team can't defend against that, Ashley, Hollis-Jefferson, and Tarczewski can all take advantage of that.
Here's the #tracepuntos for the game tomorrow, They haven't changed much from last time.
1. Keep Kravish in the game
Once David got two fouls in the first half last time, it was over. Cal went cold, Arizona got every look they wanted, and any hopes of an upset went out the window like that toilet in Boondock Saints. Kravish needs to stay on the court. He had what may have been his best game against Washington State, and the way that we have beaten Arizona in the past is by controlling the paint. Kravish has to stay in the game in order for that to be a reality.
2. Win the rebounding battle
I hope that the success on the boards against Washington State can continue. Dwight Tarwater had four offensive rebounds against the Cougars, leading to a plus 15 advantage on the boards. A lot of rebounding is fundamental, in the processes of boxing out and reading the caroms of the ball off the rim. Cal will probably start Behrens or Okoroh over Tarwater due to the size issue, so the rebounding battle may be more even than last time.
3. Keep the fire in the desert going
Our defensive issues against Arizona were exacerbated by an offensive drought. No more of that. Kravish and Mathews caught fire, NBA Jam style, and they need to keep that going for a potential upset. The offense spurs on the defense, and the play of Jabari Bird on Davonte Lacy speaks to that. It's going to be difficult to do against a team that has a much better team defense than Washington State, but when given opportunities, Bird, Mathews, and Wallace have to make them count.
Since there isn't too much new stuff to go over, I'm going to take a page out of Nam's book and cut a wrestling promo. This game calls for it.
Ok Arizona. It's time once again. You've had a lot of success against us. Through Lute Olsen and Sean Miller, there have been a lot of good Wildcat teams. But we don't like you. You kicked Jorge. You don't like us. We stormed the court before the game was over and ended your undefeated season. That's true.
The past two years, we've beaten you a couple times. We've seen the cracks in your foundation. Sure, you've come back with a vengeance to try and hide those cracks. We know they're there, and we've been waiting. At the Pac-12 tournament, you're gonna get your shots at us, that's true. But we're coming back with more than you've seen. We've taken your best punch, and we're still moving forward.
It's time to play the game, Arizona. We're coming, expect us.