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Cal Men's Basketball Preview: Versus Arizona

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In the last road trip of the season, the Bears head to the McKale Center to face Arizona.

No wonder he leads the Pac-12 in 3 point %
No wonder he leads the Pac-12 in 3 point %
Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

There is a big difference between the Cal team that played in January against Arizona and the one now. The differences in the levels of Jabari Bird's confidence are easy to see. Coach Cuonzo Martin has rolled with a seven man rotation the past few games, though Kingsley Okoroh will probably be back to confront Arizona's big man rotation. For the most part, there's been improvement across the board for the Bears, and the momentum of a much needed blowout on Senior Night over Oregon State (a team that beat Arizona) keeps the morale high going in to the Arizona trip. These are two teams that blew the Bears out of Haas, embarrassingly so for Arizona State. The beginning of that Arizona game seemed like a bit of a turning point, where the Bears hung in for the first half and showed tenacity unseen for a few weeks. That toughness has carried over this past month or so, and that brings us to today.

The last time the Bears marched into McKale and took a victory back home was only two years ago, due to the heroics of Allen Crabbe and his 31 point performance in the desert (With our very own Ken Montgomery in attendance). How he did it is through simple means, give and go cuts, coming off screens, and hitting the occasional three.

These are simple plays that can be ran within the flow of our offense. Last weekend against Oregon State, we ran a give and go between Kravish and Singer that got an easy layup, much like the one in the highlights above between Crabbe and Richard Solomon. Jabari Bird can fill this role. He has come into his own these past few weeks in regaining his wind after his foot injury. In my mind, Bird and Crabbe are very similar players, and Bird probably has the advantage in athleticism too. If Jabari can get hot like Crabbe did, then there's more than just a chance.

That might be underrating the talent that Arizona has assembled. Kaleb Tarczewski has been tearing it up recently, playing more consistently in the post, adding another dimension to the Wildcat offense. He played a talented Utah front line and came out on top, which should tell a story of his talent. Gabe York has become the go-to shooter on a talented team, and made a huge layup off his own missed free throw to help seal the deal against Utah. Brandon Ashley is another athletic big they can throw out, him missing the majority of the game in Haas last year helped to swing that game. Stanley Johnson is a bit of a volume shooter who had a 3-19 performance against Utah, but that probably won't continue. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is much improved from his role last year and is blossoming. TJ McConnell, the Duquesne transfer, has done a solid job at leading the offense.

Starters:

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

Bench:

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

Key Players:

This is a surprisingly balanced team when it comes to scoring output. Johnson can be a volume shooter at times, like he did against Utah, but is an extraordinarily talented shooter nonetheless. Ashley had been overshadowed in the past by the likes of Aaron Gordon, but he has improved in the spotlight, living more up to his McDonald's All-American Status. Tarczewski is a big body that has been killing it recently, which will test our frontcourt depth. His backup, Ristic, left me impressed by his post presence when the teams played up at Haas. York has become their sixth man extraordinaire, fighting his way into some good playing time and proving that he belongs. Holli-Jefferson is excellent on the boards, and is another athlete for the Bears to try to corral.

Here's the #tracepuntos to victory for the week.

1. No fear

Arizona is a talented team. They have been for a long time. They will continue to be after this. The attitude surrounding the game needs to be addressed though. They can be beaten. Teams we have beaten have beaten them. They are the number five team in the country, but that doesn't make them unbeatable. In our previous game, we stood toe to toe with them before folding, and since our improvement, we can stay with them even more. When we beat them at Haas last year, Cobbs and company never tightened up and forced shots. They kept with the plan, kept the game close, and made Sean Miller hat court stormings. That process needs to be replicated.

2. Bring the King to his court.

Through no fault of his own, Kingsley Okoroh did not play either of the last two games. Due to issues with matching up against almost position-less Ducks and OSU's trapping system, he would have been misused. Against a team with the size of Arizona, the Bears need Kingsley to come to play. His defense will be especially helpful against Tarczewski, who has had a lot of success recently. Aside from Utah, no one else that Arizona has played has had a similar defensive center like Kingsley to play against Kaleb. If Okoroh can play clean and tough defense, that can neutralize one more threat and give more leeway for defensive schemes on the other four players

3. Consistent Movement.

Offensively, when in a rut, movement stops. This usually leads to a Ty Wallace iso, which leads to about 30% layups, 25% foul shots, and 45% flailing into a bad shot. Cutting stops, post isos and drives reign, and the offense turns stagnant. That can't happen against an opponent as good as Arizona. Use Jabari's talents in cutting and passing. Wallace is an excellent cutter as well. Kravish is an underrated passer from the high post. Draw in defenders with cuts and screens for kickouts to Mathews, Bird and Singer. Whatever you do above all else, keep the ball  moving and wear down the defense.

TV: ESPN (We've gone big-time)

Time: 6 PM

Radio: 810 AM

Dave Pasch and Bill Walton are doing this game, so expect at least 5 references to the Grateful Dead, 3 to the Fillmore, and at least 2 remarks that make you wonder how Bill Walton still is employed by ESPN.

Go Bears!