Scouting the Bears

Arizona once again finds itself in a must-win situation. Though it is a lock for a 17th consecutive NCAA Tournament berth, Arizona needs to rebound with a victory on Saturday over the red-hot California Golden Bears in McKale Center. But with two big men back for Cal who didn't play much against the Cats the first time, winning might be a very tough challenge. We'll find out if the Cats are up to it soon enough.

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Arizona's problems of matching up against skilled and athletic big men might be exploited again Saturday afternoon against Cal when the Bears dispatch a trio of players 6-10 or taller against the Wildcats.

In the first meeting, which Arizona won by ten in Berkeley, the Bears played most of the game without the services of either 6-10 senior power forward Solomon Hughes (foul trouble) or 6-11 freshman center Jamal Sampson (flu trouble) and the Wildcats took advantage of their absence. That is highly unlikely to happen again in the second meeting.

Throw in 6-10 freshman forward Amit Tamir and all of the sudden the Bears resemble the San Francisco skyline across the Bay. Given the Wildcats recent struggles against talented big men, it's not a stretch to project this game coming down to the wire regardless of the fact that it's in McKale.

For Arizona to rise to the challenge of the Bears' frontline strength, it is going to take an exceptional (not good, but exceptional) performance out of both Channing Frye and Rick Anderson. For Anderson that means learning to finish those close range shots that he's had so much trouble with lately and for Frye that means snapping out of this prolonged slump with a vengeance. There's almost no choice. Now is not the time for slumps with a team comprised mostly of freshmen.

In the backcourt Arizona has the clear edge with Jason Gardner and Salim Stoudamire. Gardner was an All-American against Stanford with 33 points on 6-8 three-point shooting while Salim was not-so-good with his 1-11 shooting performance. However, if there's one thing that's been apparent about Salim over the last half of the year, it's that he knows how to rebound from tough games with a good performance the next time out. He'd better because if he stays cold, Arizona is in real trouble.

Cal has the edge in the frontcourt with the aforementioned trio of big men and the added services of Solomon's "little brother", 6-11 Gabriel.

What the Bears have in size the Wildcats have in versatility with Luke Walton and Anderson. Tamir is a very good passing big man but is only a streaky shooter. Expect both Walton and Anderson to comeback with solid games against the Bears as the Wildcats realize that desperation has come to town and won't leave the Cats' side again until they get another win.

Walton in particular should makeup for a poor performance against Stanford with a big game Saturday afternoon. No way he turns the ball over nine times again.

Same goes with Salim not going 1-11 again, Ricky not missing so many "gimmes", Channing not having a lone rebound and Will Bynum not playing. Then again, how likely is it that Gardner hits six more threes and scores 30+?

Pride is on the line and it's going to be time to see if the Cats can prove themselves in a pressurized game against a very quality opponent.

Cats win, but barely.

Arizona 74-70.

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