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Cal MBB Travels to Slay the Desert Dragon

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NCAA Basketball: Colorado at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to hate the Arizona Wildcats. Besides the wretched spawn of Westwood, (ie, The House That Sam Gilbert Bought), is there a douchier fanbase in the Pac-12? These are the same tone-deaf reprobates who would scream their insipid “U of A” mantra during the singing of another school’s hymn to their alma mater. Granted, three letters is probably all they can remember. But if you’re going to go with the goat-worshipping cult chant, at least make it clever and original like, “We believe that we will win.”

From Sean Miller’s sweaty double-chin to his diabolically-slicked back hair to his derp-faced assistants who kick opposing players, it’s an program that simply oozes with detestability. At least some of this irrational bitterness stems from unfortunate fact that the Wildcats’ smug arrogance is well-deserved; year in and year out they’re one of the most consistently formidable teams in the conference. Smarmy Miller may be a used car salesman, but he weathers early departures by recruiting and coaching well enough to put out teams who can lock you down on one end and light you up at the other. Sadly enough, this season (21-3) is no exception as they boast the Pac-12’s #2 defense paired w/ the #3 offense.

Now granted, neither of which was particularly on display last weekend during their 58-85 woodshedding at the hands of Bowling Green. But it just means that we have an angry, desperate Wildcats team back on their home court. Marvelous.

If not for frontcourt depth and foul trouble, Cal actually played Zona relatively even during our first go-around. Even so, the computers only give us a 20% chance. There’s really no magic strategy to facing off against a more talented and athletic squad. Decades of Cal fandom will attest that the bully wins more than they lose. But it’s those rare moments of unexpected glory that taste all the sweeter because of the long odds. Sometimes, you just have roll the hard six. Why not Cal?

Starters

PG Kadeem Allen(Sr), 6’3, 205lbs, 9.7 ppg, 3.0 apg, 42% 3FG - Good outside shooter, but doesn’t take as many 3’s. Has shown more of a tendency to attack the rim.

G Kobi Simmons(Fr) 6’5, 175 lbs, 11.3 ppg, 2.5 apg - Yet another 5* athlete who can do a bit of everything. See Alkins, Rawle.

G Rawle Alkins(Fr) 6’5 220 lbs, 11.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.0 apg - See Simmons, Kobi.

F Lauri Markkanen(Fr), 7’0, 230 lbs, 15.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 48% 3FG - Ridiculously efficient and skilled player who shoots lights out from everywhere. Thank goodness he’s a lottery pick with a dwindling window to torment us.

F Dusan Ristic(Jr), 7’0, 245 lbs, 11.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg - Spent a year learning from Zeus how to say “I will break you.” Solid big who will get a lot of shots from the paint.

Bench

G Alonzo Trier(So) 6’5, 205 lbs, 14.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg - Has come off suspension trying to put up enough shots to make up for lost time. A strange case of athletic dyslexia; pretty effective at putting a ball into a hoop, but can’t seem to pee in a cup. Notice how no one wants to high-five him at the end of the game.

F Chance Comanche(So), 6’11, 215 lbs, 5.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg - “Why are you named Chance? My momma took one.”

G Parker Jackson-Cartwright(Jr), 5’11, 170 lbs, 4.7 ppg, 4.6 apg - Can’t really shoot or score effectively, yet somehow manages to use his quickness to remain their best set-up man.

F Keanu Pinder(Jr) 6’9, 220 lbs - Coach Miller swipes left all the time to keep him on the bench.

Keys to the Game:

  1. “That makes you all very dangerous men!” - Can’t play scared or roll over simply because of the other team’s logo. While our trademark style may give us closer than comfortable games against lesser opponents, it also gives us a puncher’s chance against elite teams. As our best players have rounded into form, we’d like to see them inspire confidence and mental toughness from their squadmates.
  2. Dance with the girl - Cuonzo Gravity, engage! Make this one a slow grinder of a defensive slugfest. Yes, far easier said than done against the Zona high-flyers. One key difference between the earlier game is the return of a nearly healthy Kam Rooks. Although they also get Trier back, I would argue that his previous absence had a negligible effect on their wing depth whereas we found our front court in dire straits. Case in point, we had to cover Ristic with Cole Welle which is a somewhat less than an ideal match-up.
  3. Let’s have an open relationship - Maybe we’re married to man in Cuonzo’s heart of hearts, but the zone has been undeniably effective at times this year. In game #1, the Wildcats broke it open in the 2nd half by repeatedly attacking via dribble penetration. Although we have another set of fouls to use as rim protection now that Kam is back, we also have the ability to switch things up and force them to at least re-think their offensive sets.
  4. Not today - Pulling the upset on Arizona always involves someone playing out of their minds. Whether it’s Jabari embracing his role as the ascendant senior, or Rabb bringing Oaktown to the desert, we need someone to be a hero in Blue and Gold. Perhaps many someones. It’s your time, Dom.
  5. Make shots - We’ve all seen teams get crazy hot. Heck, we’ve had it happen to us. All the clanks this year have lead up to this very game. That lack of consistent offensive flow? Strategery. We’re due.

Go Bears!

Tip-Off: Saturday, February 11, 7PM

TV: ESPN2