Cal Preview

Two weeks ago, Arizona State was left for dead. After starting out with 14 wins in their first 16 games, the Sun Devils came crashing back down to earth with five consecutive losses. However, Herb Sendek and his squad didn't get the memo that their season was more or less over. The team went down to Tucson and beat Arizona then they erased a 14-point deficit at home against 7th-ranked Stanford.

Now that the Sun Devils (16-7, 6-5 Pac-10) have risen back to NCAA Tournament contention, the tough part now is to remain there. The first test on that mission is when the California Golden Bears (14-9, 5-7) come to town on Saturday afternoon.

In their first meeting, the Sun Devils won a double-overtime thriller in Berkeley behind three 25+ point performances from James Harden, Jeff Pendergraph, and hot-shooting Ty Abbott. For Cal, the loss was especially tough for Ryan Anderson who lit up the ASU defense with 32 points and 15 rebounds. This game is absolutely crucial for both teams as they still have aspirations of playing in the NCAA Tournament and as the season dwindles down, each game has major implications.

Head Coach – Ben Braun

Projected Starters

PG – Jerome Randle – (12.0 PPG, 4.0 APG)
SG – Patrick Christopher – (16.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG)
SF – Eric Vierniesel – (4.6 PPG, 2.3 RPG)
PF – Ryan Anderson – (21.8 PPG, 10.1 RPG)
C – DeVon Hardin – (10.1 PPG, 7.6 RPG)

Impact Reserves

G – Nikola Knezevic
F – Harper Kamp
C – Jamal Boykin

Overview

Over a month ago when ASU advanced to 4-0 in Pac-10 play with a win over the Cal Bears, Jeff Pendergraph said that the program was in uncharted territory. The Sun Devils were one of the hottest teams in the land and an impressive victory in Berkeley had the Sun Devil faithful ecstatic.

From that point on things changed: the shots stopped falling, the opponents made adjustments, and the bench was thinner than expected. This was a young Sun Devil team and while the highs and lows should have been expected it was still painful to watch. After fives straight losses put ASU in the bottom half of the conference standings, the dream for post-season basketball was slipping away at a rapid rate.

However, Sendek and the staff put together a masterful offensive gameplan to beat Arizona and then devised another effective strategy against Stanford that also proved to be Rihards Kuksiks' breakout performance. The Latvian freshman went off for 15 points, including seven in the last three minutes of regulation.

Guards

Jerome Randle is a handful for opponents with his world-class quickness and Patrick Christopher is arguably the most improved player in the country. Randle and Christopher make up an extremely talented and quick backcourt and will give Derek Glasser and Ty Abbott a tough battle. Yet both Glasser and Abbott will also prove to be a tough match-up for the Bears. Glasser hit a game-winner at Cal last season and Abbott was absolutely unconscious in his first career meeting with Cal hitting for 25 points on seven three-pointers.

Slight Edge – ASU

Forwards

The Bears shuffle between Vierneisel and Nikola Knezevic on the wing but the one constant is Ryan Anderson at power forward. Quite possibly the best player in the nation's best conference, Anderson is a scoring and rebounding machine that has drawn many comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki in just his sophomore season. Anderson can beat teams in every possible way and will undoubtedly be the go-to-guy against the Sun Devils. ASU will counter with Harden and likely Kuksiks. The Sun Devils' game plan will likely be to try to stretch out the gigantic Cal frontcourt and Kuksiks can do that if his shots start falling.

Edge – Even

Centers

A lot of college basketball experts have ranted and raved about DeVon Hardin and how great of a big man he is and while he is extremely skilled and a consistent contributor, he will be going up against Jeff Pendergraph who has received half the attention but has put up better numbers and is playing like a man possessed lately.

After a career game against Arizona, he followed that up with a strong performance against Stanford and the 7-ft. Lopez twins. If Pendergraph stays out of foul trouble (not possible if Dave Libbey gets the nod) and can find his mid-range stroke, Hardin and backup Jamal Boykin will be in for a long day. If Pendergraph has to sit, expect to see Eric Boateng, a disappointment in most eyes but coming off a big performance against Stanford in which he had a couple timely rebounds and the game-clinching free throw.

Slight Edge – ASU

Final Score – ASU 75 Cal 67


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