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Cal basketball vs. Colorado: Previewing the regular season finale

Can the Bears salvage their road trip?

NCAA Basketball: California at Arizona State
Kingsley Okoroh and the Bears hope to get back on track
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The 19-10 California Golden Bears fell to 10-7 in conference play with Thursday’s miserable 74-44 loss at Utah but have one more chance to improve their regular season record. They head to Boulder for a meeting with Tad Boyle’s Colorado Buffaloes.

Colorado defeated Stanford 91-72 in convincing fashion on Thursday night. That improved the Buffaloes’ record to 17-13 and 7-10 against the Pac-12. They scored 50 in the second half alone and boasted six players in double figures. Surprisingly, leading scorer Derrick White was not one of them as he shot 4-7 from the field for 9 points. He was much more active in his previous outing, which included this power dunk.

The Buffaloes’ balanced attack against the Cardinal is not typical of their other recent games. It works to Colorado’s advantage if their supporting cast gets open looks. Even little-used freshman guard Deleon Brown made the most of his opportunities in making two of three shots behind the arc and finishing with 10 points. For some perspective, Brown hadn’t scored more than a single bucket in a game since January 26.

Cal’s trademark defense was largely missing at the Huntsman Center, but it will need to re-emerge if the Bears want to get back in the win column. It didn’t help that their ineffective offense gave the Utes transition opportunities all night. Colorado won’t shoot 57% every contest, but they can be a dangerous bunch at full strength.

Colorado projected lineup

G Derrick White - 6’5” Sr. - 17.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.3 apg

Actually a transfer from the Division II school University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, he’s the best Buffalo this season. Has shot 39% from distance and scored over 30 twice this season, including a 31-point game on February 23 at Utah.

G Dominique Collier - 6’2” Jr. - 6.3 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.8 apg

A wily defender and reasonable playmaker, but he’s no Dominique Wilkins: his field goal shooting has been poor. Does rank second on the team in steals, however.

G George King - 6’6” Jr. - 11.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 0.8 apg

A bright spot in the lopsided loss to Oregon on February 18. Another strong three-point shooter and a threat on the offensive glass. Not a columnist for the New York Post.

G Xavier Johnson - 6’7” Sr. - 14.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.1 apg

Missed the last meeting with the Bears due to a violation of team rules, and it hurt the Buffaloes. Has been mired in something of a slump lately but was a very effective scorer in the first half of the campaign.

F Wesley Gordon - 6’9” Sr. - 7.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.5 bpg

He’s no Kingsley Okoroh when it comes to rim protection, but the only taller member of the team is a freshman who plays sparingly. Doesn’t get many touches but is a serviceable inside scorer.

Key reserves

C Lucas Siewert - 6’10” Fr. - 2.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.4 apg

The aforementioned tall guy just scored 15 against the Cardinal in his best offensive game of the season. He hails from Brazil but played high school ball in the Los Angeles area.

G Josh Fortune - 6’5” Sr. - 6.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.5 apg

Fared better in nonconference play than he has against Pac-12 squads. His three-point shot hasn’t been falling at last year’s 38.5% clip.

F Tory Miller - 6’9” Jr. - 6.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.5 apg

Filled in for Johnson nicely at Haas Pavilion and scored 10 points despite playing 14 minutes in his last appearance. His usual role has more to do with collecting rebounds.

Winning strategies

1. Focus on the stars.

Colorado is 61st in the country as far as offensive efficiency goes. Thursday’s game notwithstanding, it’s not because they have a lot of scoring options. Forcing White and Johnson into tough shots, or better yet turnovers, is key. It’s also not unlikely because the Bears have allowed the 4th lowest effective field goal percentage in the land. If the Bears can also get the Buffaloes to collect fouls, they will have trouble even on home court at altitude.

2. Control the boards.

The Buffaloes are 58th nationally in offensive rebounding, but Cal is even better at 48th. Rebounding on both ends will be important for the Bears, because second chances fuel Boyle’s offensive scheme.

3. Use the bench.

It’s no secret that opposing teams can struggle with conditioning at a mile in elevation. I would respond by rotating big men at will. Doing so can help maintain the effectiveness of Okoroh, Kameron Rooks, Ivan Rabb, and possibly even Roger Moute a Bidias. It’s also likely to give Colorado matchup headaches.

4. Go back to Colorado’s kryptonite.

The Buffs simply had no answer for Charlie Moore in their first encounter with the freshman guard. Moore was 5-8 on three-pointers, resulting in 17 points with 8 assists added for good measure. If he’s a heavy part of the game plan, it should lead to better shots for Rabb inside and sharpshooters like Jabari Bird on the perimeter.

5. Play with confidence

It’s not easy preparing to face a team like Colorado. They began conference play 0-7 despite some obviously talented players. The Buffaloes soundly defeated Oregon at home back in January only to fall 101-73 during their more recent matchup in Eugene. Like most teams they play better at home, but the Bears simply cannot use that as an excuse. If Cuonzo Martin’s team believes that it belongs among in the NCAA Tournament field, now is the time to show the world why. Nobody wants to rely on the unpredictable conference tournament as a showcase.

According to, Cal holds a 48% chance of coming away with a victory. That’s not a very confident prediction, as Colorado is projected to win by a single point. I’m going to take a small risk and say that the Bears bounce back from their poor showing in Salt Lake City. Cal did beat the Buffaloes at home by a score of 77-66.

How to follow: Pac-12 Networks on TV, KGO 810 AM on radio, on radio stream, 11:00 AM PT on Saturday, March 4

Meaningless Prediction: Cal 68, Colorado 64

Go Bears!