When: 6:00 pm
Bill Walton: Present
Way back when the season began, your eyes scanned the schedule and saw that the season ended with a trip to Arizona. You knew that this Cal team was talented, and potentially very special. And you hoped that when Cal stepped onto the court in Tucson, that they would be playing for something important, something impressive.
Well, here we are. The path might have been a little more crooked than expected, but the Bears enter the final weekend of conference play with the Pac-12 title and NCAA seeding to play for. True, a share of the title is the best Cal can hope for, but a share of a title is nothing to spit at - we should know, considering how long we had to wait for the joy of 2010.
Besides, it's easy to get excited about playing Arizona. For better or for worse, the Wildcats define Pac-12 basketball. It's the fan base that regards the Pac-12 as their birthright. The fans that laughed at Ivan Rabb for wasting his talent by coming to Berkeley. The program that has gotten pretty whiny about how pleased everybody else is when they lose. Getting swept in the mountains has already caused a segment of their fan base to go off the deep end with laughable conspiracy theories. There's no small matter of satisfaction just knowing that Arizona has already been eliminated from the title race. Let's heap on the pain.
Pac-12 title or no, sweeping Arizona would mean a great deal to this team, for reasons both tangible and intangible. Let's burn down McKale.
PG Parker Jackson-Cartwright - Very much a pass first point, but a dangerous shooter when he does pull the trigger. Increased minutes of late.
G Gabe York - Arizona's best jump shooter, highest volume shooter period. Iffy dribble-drive game.
G Allonzo Trier - Strong attacker, finisher, and foul shooter didn't play in Berkeley due to injury. Will likely face Brown in a critical offense/defense match-up.
F Ryan Anderson - Likely all-conference pick does everything well - elite finisher, rebounds strongly on both ends, draws fouls. Rabb kept him in check last time, can he do it again?
C Kaleb Tarczewski - Probably best all-around rebounder in the conference. Doesn't get a ton of offensive opportunities. I hope this is the last time we see him in an Arizona uniform.
PG Kadeem Allen - Until recently was Arizona's starting point. More of a threat to take his own shot than Cartwright-Jackson.
F Mark Tollefsen - Stretch 4 that isn't much for contact but doesn't make many offensive mistakes.
C Dusan Ristic - Provides similar production as Tarcwezski, but much weaker on the glass
Anderson is, theoretically, Arizona's go-to-guy. But it's worth noting that he had a nightmare of a weekend on the road against Colorado and Utah, including getting benched for a long period of time against Utah in favor of Chance Comanche, whom I didn't include in my first draft of this preview because he had played such limited minutes. Will we get a refocused Anderson, or the defensive liability that showed up last week?
After Anderson, it's a relatively balanced offense. York probably takes a few too many shots, Tarczewski too few, but there aren't any bad options most of the time.
Advanced Stat Preview
When Cal has the ball
It's relative weakness vs. relative weakness on this end of the court. Last time out, Cal did a good job in two areas that are otherwise a strength of the Arizona defense: picking up a few offensive rebounds, and getting off solid looks from deep. The Bears tend to do well against teams like Arizona that don't naturally force many turnovers - again, it will be a question of how many good looks Cal can create . . . and then hit.
When Arizona has the ball
Somewhat unusually, Cal's defense didn't do a ton to beat the Wildcats in Berkeley. Arizona's 1.15 points/possession roughly matches their season-long efficiency. Cal will almost certainly need a better all-around effort in Tucson to get the road win. Cal has typically been able to either shut down a team's interior scoring, or avoid interior fouling. Against Arizona, they had trouble in both areas.
Our Computer Overlords Predict
Arizona has lost one home game since Allen Crabbe blew up for a thrilling 32 points in McKale just over three years ago. It's a tough, tough place to win for a variety of reasons. But these Wildcats aren't quite the 2014/2015 Wildcats, and these Bears aren't quite like prior editions either, which is why the computers see Cal as having a pretty decent chance, relative to pretty much every other trip to Tucson. This won't be easy, and the Bears are decided underdogs, but they have a real shot at this.
Keys to the Game
1.Arizona's bigs vs. Cal's 2 point defense
Cal/Arizona round 1 saw a truly thrilling battle between Cal's elite 2 point defense and Arizona's bevy of interior scoring threats. Cal may have won the game, but it wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest that Arizona won the interior battle. Zeus, Ristic, and Anderson combined for 36 points on 20 shots, with most of the post battles ending either in a made basket or free throws. Cal will likely need to do better in the desert, whether that means forcing more missed shots or fouling less.
2. Can Cal keep creating and hitting 3 point shots?
The biggest reason Cal won in Berkeley was that Jordan Mathews went nuclear from behind the arc, hitting 6 threes. Jabari added a pair of his own, and Cal was able to get off a high number of attempts, particularly important against a team like Arizona that can defend the paint.
Getting high value 3 point attempts (i.e., shots for Jordan and Jabari) has been a key strength of Cal's offense (39% as a team in Pac play!) throughout the conference season, but Arizona will likely be keying on the duo considering what JMat did to them earlier, and what Jabari has been doing to everybody over the last month or so.
3. Slow it down again?
Cal and Arizona are both teams that play average tempo offenses. However, each team played one of their slowest tempo games of the year against each other, and I think that's mostly because of the Bears. Cal's defense forced Arizona into longer possessions, and Cal's offense was very deliberate, in part because of foul trouble concerns, in part because we were nursing a lead, and in part because this wasn't long after Ty's injury and we were light on ball handlers.
Does Cuonzo want to go slow again? It makes sense for a variety of reasons, but we have Ty back now to help run the break a bit more. How cautious will the Bears play to avoid foul trouble and keep the game to limited possessions?
4. Kod5 - let's hope we shoot better than they do, sound good?
Arizona is a team that is relatively immune to the damages of a poor shooting night, in part because they aren't very reliant on 3 point shooting, in part because they finish well, and in part because they usually get a high number of free throw attempts. But hey, weird things happen and our Bears are certainly capable of knocking down more than their share of jumpers on any given night.
5. Jaylen Brown vs. Allonzo Trier
Jaylen Brown's ability to create offense through sheer force of will was a critical factor in round 1. It probably didn't hurt that Trier, Arizona's best and most prototypical wing, missed the game due to injury. Trier is probably the best equipped to guard Brown, and has the potential to get Brown into foul trouble on the other end. Who wins this battle of consensus 5 star wing recruits?