The 0-13 Cal Golden Bears visit Tucson tonight to play the 5-8 Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats are 14-12 overall and the Golden Bears are 5-20. Arizona hasn’t won a game since January 19th and Cal hasn’t won a game since December 21st. Arizona has lost 7 conference games in a row and, going back to last year, Cal has lost 21 conference games in a row.
Top Performers for Cal:
#10 Justice Sueing 6’7″ F (So.) 15 points per game, 6 rebounds
#20 Matt Bradley 6’4″ G (Fr.) 10.5 ppg, 3 rebs, 1.9 assists, 46% from 3
#3 Paris Austin 6’0″ G (Jr.) 11.7 ppg, 4.5 assists, 3.1 rebs
Top Performers for Arizona:
#5 Brandon Randolph 6’6″ G (So.) 13.4 ppg, 3.5 rebs
#4 Chase Jeter 6’10” C (Jr.) 11.5 ppg, 7 rebs
Offense: Cal is last in the Pac-12 averaging only 66.8 points per game. Arizona is 10th in league play averaging 70.1 ppg. These are, statistically, the two worst shooting teams in the Conference of Champions. They have ridiculously close team field goal percentages with Cal shooting .402 while Arizona is at .403.
Justice Sueing is Cal’s best and most reliable player and has been playing really well lately with a 52% field goal percentage over his last 7 games. 7’3″ Freshman forward Connor Vanover (6.3 ppg, 2.5 rebs pg) has seen increases in minutes played and productivity and has started the last 3 games in place of Andre Kelly. Over the last 5 games Vanover has averaged 28 minutes, 12.4 points, and 5.2 rebounds. He doesn’t mind stepping out to put up a couple 3’s each game either.
Cal doesn’t shoot as many 3’s as other teams in the Pac-12 but Matt Bradley is, for the season, a 46% 3-point shooter. That number has dropped in conference play to 39% but that is still is one of the best percentages in the league. Darius McNeil shoots 37% from 3 and is 4th in the Pac-12 in 3-pointers made and 3rd in 3-pointers attempted.
The Cats shot the ball a little better on their road trip to Utah and Colorado with a 45% field goal percentage over those 2 games. Brandon Randolph seems poised to have a big game soon. He has missed his last 12 3-point attempts spanning the last 4 games and has not been the same offensively since the injury to Brandon Williams.
On their road trip, they seemed determined to get Chase Jeter the ball in the post while 6’7″ Ira Lee came off the bench and provided some much needed energy and aggression inside. Jeter has, however, fouled out of 2 of the last 4 games and Lee is not immune to foul trouble either. One of Cal’s bright spots is its free throw shooting (74%) and the Cats would do well not to foul too much and avoid putting Cal in the free throw “bonus”.
6’9″ Sr. Forward Ryan Luther has shot the ball really well recently and made 8 of 15 of his 3-pointers in those last 2 games. He will shoot from anywhere but seems most comfortable shooting the corners, or below free throw line extended.
Defense: The Golden Bears have the worst statistical defense in the Pac-12. They are last in league play allowing opponents to shoot 61% from 2-point range and just under 40% from 3. They are also last in points given up per game, allowing opponents to average 80.8 points against them. They have been losing by an average of 14 points per game in conference play. They are also a poor rebounding team. They are 352nd in the NCAA in total rebounds, 353rd in defensive rebounds, and 329th in offensive rebounds.
Cal may switch defensive strategies throughout the game but we will most likely see quite a bit of zone tonight against the Cats. At times, the zone will look to trap or double team, even on the perimeter.
Arizona’s Sean Miller is notorious for his defensive coaching and man-to-man scheme. So it was a little surprising to see him pepper in some zone over their last road trip. Not too much, just here and there to try and catch the opponent off guard. I’m happy to see it as zone defenses are frowned upon nowadays but, to me, are just another tool that should be brought out of the toolbox from time to time, when needed. I’ve always thought it a mistake for any team to refuse to step out of only 1 style of defense. It’s usually, however, a mistake for us as observers to question both offensive and defensive decisions made by these top level coaches. They know their personnel a lot better than we do.
Summary: Despite their record, Cal is not a bad basketball team and I would argue that there are no bad basketball teams, just some that are better than others. Cal has a number of players who could play for just about any other Pac-12 school. The Golden Bears are a young team, as just about all of their production comes from underclassmen–the exception being Jr. point guard Paris Austin who leads the team in assists and is 5th in the Pac-12 with 4.5 assists per game. Austin is also, at 6’0″, Cal’s 3rd leading rebounder.
Brandon Williams will once again be out for the Cats. Arizona has only scored over 80 points once since Williams was sidelined and that was in an overtime loss against ASU.
These teams are pretty evenly matched and in their last meeting in Berkeley the Cats won 87-65 with Chase Jeter dropping 23 points and 9 rebounds. Brandon Williams added 16 points and both he and Jeter shot over 70% from the field in that game. For Cal, Justice Sueing put up a casual 27 points on 61% shooting.