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Previewing Cal MBB vs. Saint Mary’s

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The Bears take on a third WCC team.

NCAA Basketball: California at Duke
Joel Brown and the Bears are back in action on Saturday night.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last decade or so, only Gonzaga has represented the West Coast Conference with as much success as the Saint Mary’s Gaels. Head coach Randy Bennett arrived in Moraga during 2001 and now holds over 400 career wins. A season after upsetting Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament, the Gaels find themselves 9-2 following a loss on Sunday against the #19 Dayton Flyers. Their signature win so far came on November 29 versus the Utah State Aggies, who were ranked #15 at the time.

Meanwhile, the California Golden Bears used Wednesday’s game against the Fresno State Bulldogs to get back on track. The 69-63 win pushed them to 6-4, but Saturday night appears to be the toughest test for Mark Fox’s team since visiting New York City to face Duke and Texas.

Saint Mary’s Gaels

Projected lineup

#24 Malik Fitts - 6’8” Jr F - 14.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.7 apg

Maybe he plays Robin to Jordan Ford’s Batman, but that’s no slight to his game. Fitts posted three straight double-doubles heading into the Dayton game and acquitted himself nicely in that one too. Thankfully for SMC fans, Fitts has another year of eligibility after this season ends.

#11 Matthias Tass - 6’10” So F/C - 7.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.5 apg

Tass has blocked 1.4 shots per contest in a more significant role than he played last season. The native of Estonia really distinguished himself in the Utah State game with 15 points, four rebounds, five assists, three swats, and two steals.

#00 Tanner Krebs - 6’6” Sr G - 12.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.2 spg

Surprisingly, Krebs is the only regular member of the starting lineup from Australia. The bench is well stocked with Aussies, though. He is shooting a stratospheric 54% from three-point range this season.

#12 Tommy Kuhse - 6’2” Jr G - 4.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.1 apg

Kuhse has kept his place in the lineup, but it hasn’t led to much playing time lately. In fact, his numbers are mostly propped up by his great performance on November 14 against Long Beach State.

#3 Jordan Ford - 6’1” Sr G - 19.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.4 apg

Ford is an excellent three-point shooter, making 40% or more of them in three straight seasons in you include this one. Ford also averages nearly two steals per game, so he’s someone to watch for on both ends of the court.

Key Reserves

#23 Kristers Zoriks - 6’4” So G - 5.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 1.1 apg

Zoriks is from the Baltic state of Latvia and has become the most trusted bench player on the roster. Shooting 59% from the field and scoring double digit points in each of your last three appearances is one way to get into Bennett’s good graces.

#42 Dan Fotu - 6’7” So F - 2.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 0.5 spg

Hailing from New Zealand, Fotu leads the squad in field-goal shooting on a fairly low volume. He has only played 12 minutes over the last two games but seemed to be rising in the rotation prior to that.

#41 Aaron Menzies - 7’3” Sr C - 4.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.4 apg

Cal fans might remember Menzies as a former member of the Seattle University team. Despite his size, the Englishman hasn’t come close to the playing time he enjoyed in the Pacific Northwest.

Winning strategies

1. Focus on the perimeter.

The Gaels rank third in the country when it comes to three-point shooting, sinking 42.2% of them. Cal is actually 19th in Division I at 40%. However, both teams have fared poorly defending long range shots. The Gaels have allowed 36% from behind the arc and the Bears have given up 34.9% of them. Expect plenty of attempts in this one.

2. Create havoc on defense.

A hallmark of Saint Mary’s teams is offensive efficiency Opposing squads only steal the ball 6.7% of the time and the Gaels are 30th best in Division I when it comes to preventing turnovers overall. Interestingly, Cal is third best in the nation in steal avoidance but have committed too many unforced turnovers. Saint Mary’s effective field-goal percentage of 54.8% makes up for a relative unwillingness to draw shooting fouls. This game is no time to sit back and let them fire away. Fox may be a coach who emphasizes defense, but the Bears have done a poor job generating turnovers so far.

3. Play as a team.

As great as Matt Bradley has been this season, Kareem South is the only other Golden Bear to average double-digit points this season. If the defense is able to swarm Bradley, Grant Anticevich (8.0 ppg) and Paris Austin (6.6 ppg) need to be ready. It will also be interesting to see if players like Joel Brown and Jacobi Gordon will see their roles expand as the season goes along.

Meaningless prediction: Saint Mary’s 79, Cal 75

The Bears are 6-0 at home, but Ken Pomeroy only expects a 29% probability of a Cal win. The game will take place at Haas Pavilion on Saturday, December 14 at 7:30 PM PT. It will be shown on Pac-12 Networks and the KGO 810 AM feed can be streamed on TuneIn radio.

Go Bears!