Scouting the Golden Bears

California comes into Thursday night's game against Arizona riding the high of an emotional and thrilling overtime victory at USC a week ago. The euphoria was tempered slightly when the Bears lost a close one at UCLA on Saturday but the fact remains that Cal is a very confident team that is playing solid basketball right now. Escaping Berkeley with a win might be asking a bit much for the young Wildcats.

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Arizona (13-6; 6-3) at Cal (14-4; 5-3) Thursday at 8 p.m. MST
Last time out: Arizona-Lost 100-98 (OT) against a red-hot UConn team at home in McKale Center. The Wildcats offense was clicking all afternoon but, once again, the defense had some holes. Cal-Lost 64-57 at UCLA after coming off a dramatic overtime win at USC on Thursday night.

A lot has been made of California's tough defense, particularly on the inside with freshman center Jamal Sampson and junior forward Solomon Hughes, but not enough has been said about its offensive woes.

The game on Thursday will be a contrast in styles: Arizona with its high-octane offense led by Jason Gardner, Luke Walton and a host of talented freshmen and California with its stingy interior defense. The difference should come down to the homecourt advantage, which favors the Bears, but make no mistake, this is a team that Arizona matches up very well against.

PG-Jason Gardner (5-10, 185 Jr.) vs. either A.J. Diggs (5-10, 160 Sr.)-or-Shantay Legans (5-8, 175 Jr.)
*Gardner shot the ball better against Connecticut but still had trouble penetrating for scores against the long arms of shot-blocking Husky freshman Emeka Okafor (who didn't?). He will have the same problems against Cal when trying to score inside against Sampson and Hughes. Last year in Berkeley, Gardner only attempted four shots but one was a clutch three-pointer with 59 seconds remaining to break a 74-74 tie. Expect him to at least quadruple the amount of shots taken from last year. Both Diggs and Legans are pests on defense and fourth or fifth options on offense. Legans has proven that he is a clutch player but he has been a disappointment so far this season as a junior. Neither is a good shooter but Legans has a tendency to get hot against Arizona.
-EDGE: Gardner (Arizona)

SG-Salim Stoudamire (6-1, 180 Fr.) vs. either Dennis Gates (6-3, 195 Sr.)-or-Brian Wethers (6-5, 210 Jr.)
*Though Gates has been the starter in recent games for the Bears, it is Wethers who should concern Arizona. He has the size and strength advantage over the young Stoudamire but Salim is a better shooter and on-ball defender. Wethers also likes to drive the lane more so than Salim does and that could be a problem for Arizona since penetration has killed the Cats the entire year so far. The key to this match-up is how well Salim shoots on his first three or four attempts. If he makes a few to start the game, you know that he'll be a factor all night. If he doesn't, it could be another ASU-type performance. Before the season began, CalHoopFan, of message board fame, said that Wethers would destroy Stoudamire twice this year (I still have his post). That remains to be seen but I seriously doubt anyone will ever destroy Salim during his stay at Arizona.
-EDGE: Push

SF-Luke Walton (6-8, 235 Jr.) vs. Joe Shipp (6-5, 220 Jr.)
*As with Wethers, Arizona will have to contain Shipp's penetration abilities even though he is more likely to shoot from outside the majority of the time. Shipp has been Cal's most valuable player this year and has had some big games, including a 31-point effort against rival Fresno State earlier in the season. As difficult as he will be defensively, he will have an even bigger test on his hands with trying to slow Walton down. Arguably the nation's most well rounded player, Walton gives everyone fits with his offensive game. He passes, he rebounds, he defends and now he's starting to assert himself scoring-wise also. Over the last four games Walton is averaging 22.3 points per contest and has shot 63% from the field. If he continues to compliment his passing, rebounding and defense with improved scoring, Luke Walton becomes one of the nation's premier players.
-EDGE: Walton (Arizona)

PF-Rick Anderson (6-9, 220 Jr.) vs. Amit Tamir (6-10, 195 Fr.)
*Tamir, an Israeli national, has only been active for the Bears for the last ten games, eight of which he has been a member of the starting lineup. He is your typical foreign player, loves to shoot, has good passing ability, lacks any real defensive effort and isn't as physical as most of his counterparts. He has been a really bad shooter so far (36%) and was 0-5 against UCLA (0-4 on threes). However, he was matching up with an outstanding athlete in Matt Barnes for the Bruins and against Arizona, he will pretty much get a mirror image of himself with Anderson: loves to shoot, can pass, not a good defender and not very physical. Ricky has more pure ability but Tamir is at home and Cal always plays Arizona tough in Berkeley. Anderson really needs to step up big time this weekend for Arizona to have any chance at staying in contention for the regular season Pac-10 championship.
-EDGE: Tamir (Cal)

C-Channing Frye (6-10, 225 Fr.) vs. Jamal Sampson (6-11, 225 Fr.)
*So who's the best freshman center west of Connecticut's Emeka Okafor? Find out Thursday night when Frye and Sampson go head-to-head in the Bay. Sampson, who had a reputation for being a very lazy player at Mater Dei High School and at the beginning of this year, is a good shot blocker (1.8 blocks per game) and a solid rebounder (around eight per) but oddly enough he's not a good shooter (below 50%). Frye is equally as good on the glass and in blocking shots but he's a far better shooter and scorer. Frye's upside is greater than the more heralded recruit from Santa Ana and he should be out to prove that he is the Pac-10's premier freshman post player.
-EDGE: Frye (Arizona)

What to look for on Thursday night:

*Arizona to use its 3-2 match-up zone defense for the majority of the game. The Bears are a very poor three-point shooting team (29% on the year) and playing a zone forces opponents to beat you from outside. If the Bears suddenly get hot and start making their threes, well, then they deserve to win. Actually, maybe the zone is a bad idea seeing as how everyone except USC has been lights out from downtown against Arizona lately.

*Cal to use its bench to its advantage. The Bears have nine guys averaging between 15.3 and 29.7 minutes per game. Almost all of the starters are interchangeable with someone on the bench except Shipp and Sampson, who have started all 18 games. The one guy who should scare Arizona fans the most is reserve forward Ryan Forehan-Kelly. That guy destroys the Cats with his three-point shot. Two years ago in McKale Center, the sophomore hit 6-6 threes and then last year at McKale he was 4-6 from long range for 16 points.

*Will Bynum to see a lot more playing time against Cal's six-man perimeter rotation. Counting Shipp and Forehan-Kelly, the Bears utilize six different players 6-5 or under on the perimeter. Bynum's defense will be a huge key for Arizona if it is to come away with a win on the road. If and when Rick Anderson gets into foul trouble, Bynum will be needed to score and to play solid defense.

*Look for this to be a very close game that is physical and hard-fought throughout the night. Both teams will get the other's best shot.

Prediction: Arizona 73, Cal 71.

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