I would agree with Chase Budinger, who earlier this week said that it's not necessarily a "do or die" type situation for the Cats. Even with their 18-9 record, they still sport a pretty impressive resume. However, the latest projected brackets have the Cats anywhere from a 7 seed to a 10 seed. If the Cats want to improve their current tournament status, and leave no doubts in the minds of the tournament committee and their fans, winning these two games could do just that.
Here's a quick look at this weekend's games…
California (14-14, 6-10): This game is a rematch of a game earlier the year in which the Cats had their way with the Golden Bears. The Cats dominated and controlled the game from the tip off, even though the score shows a measly nine point victory. The Cats held a 27 point lead about midway through the second half when Coach Olson decided to call off the dogs.
However, things have changed for both teams since then, especially the Cats. That was during the Cats dominant start to the season. The Bears have also struggled since then, going 6-9 in their 15 games since the first time these two teams met. The game is at Berkeley, which is never an easy place to play no matter how much Cal is struggling. The last time the Bears were at home they swept the Oregon schools, which is something the Cats didn't do earlier this year.
The Cats will have to find a way to neutralize freshman Ryan Anderson, who is going to be one of the top finalists for the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year award. Jordan Hill will have to stay out of foul trouble in order for this to happen. Hill could be that neutralizer for the Cats when dealing with Anderson as long as he's on the floor with Anderson. This will be another road test for the inexperienced, freshman Hill so it should be interesting to see how he rebounds from his poor outing against ASU.
StatFreak101's Keys to Victory: As I mentioned above, not letting a guy like Ryan Anderson have his way is going to be crucial. Anderson had 16 points against the Cats in their earlier meeting, but that was when Hill wasn't playing. The Cats will also have to limit turnovers while sustaining the rebounding advantage against the Bears. Also, keep the Bears off the free throw line will be critical as they have five regular players that shot 79% and above.
Stanford (9-7, 17-10): In what perhaps is the biggest game of the Bay trip, the Cats will have their hands full against an improved Cardinal team. Earlier in the year, the Cats had their way against a young and inexperienced Stanford team, but things have changed since then. The Cats had their way against the Cardinal, blowing past them in an 89-75 victory. Both Ivan Radenovic and Mustafa Shakur had terrific games, but both have struggled since, along with the entire Cats team.
The Cats and Cardinal are currently tied in the Pac-10 standings, which makes this game that much bigger in terms of Pac-10 seeding and NCAA seeding. If the Cats win, they can assure themselves to finish above the Cardinal in the Pac-10 standings. If they lose, then Stanford holds the tiebreaker since they defeated UCLA, the Pac-10 leader, earlier this year.
The Cardinal will most likely be without minute's leader and second leading scorer, Anthony Goods, because of a severely sprained ankle. The Cardinal will have the size advantage down low with the Lopez brothers, who have improved since the last time these two teams squared off. Arizona native, Lawrence Hill, will also be a key factor in this game, but I expect Coach Olson to put Chase Budinger on him in order to offset his size and athletic ability.
StatFreak101's Keys to Victory: Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding. If the Cats can come out and control the tempo while also controlling the glass, they should be successful. The Cats are an athletic team, which should help them offset the size of the Cardinal front line. Also, Mustafa Shakur, who has been scrutinized throughout his career at Arizona, will need to step up big. He's the superior player when comparing him to the Cardinal point guard, Mitch Johnson. I expect big things for Shakur this weekend.