Game 27: March 1, 2007
California (14-14, 6-10 Pac-10) vs. Arizona (18-9, 9-7 Pac-10)
Arena: Haas Pavilion
Arizona faces Cal tonight in the first of two critical conference games this weekend. While many want to look ahead to the Stanford game, tonight's contest is equally important. In fact, every game remaining for the Wildcats this season is equally important. That's what not taking care of business earlier in the season does to a team when conference play is winding down. Things become magnified.
While many suggest that Arizona will make the Field of 64 no matter what (and I don't disagree) they're also being extremely shortsighted. Arizona is not a school that will be satisfied with a tournament appearance and a first round loss. Arizona, under the guidance of Lute Olson, has elevated itself to a status among college basketball's elite where the success of a program is only measured by five things: Conference Championships, Sweet 16's, Elite Eights, Final Fours, and National Championships.
While Arizona does not need to beat Cal tonight to preserve their postseason lives, they do need to win to put themselves in a more favorable position to compete in the NCAA Tournament.
Each victory from this point forward is worth one position in the seeding process. A weekend sweep in the Bay Area and Arizona is looking at a 6 or 7 seed. A strong showing in the Pac-10 Tournament and Arizona could find themselves as high as a 4 seed on Selection Sunday.
Are the Wildcats ready to face their destiny tonight? Please read on to find out.
FIRST GAME RECAP
Arizona blazed their way to a 72-45 lead before calling off the dogs a month ago at the McKale Center. Cal showed no quit and trimmed the lead to a respectable nine points by the time the game clock hit 0:00.
The Bears scored 52 points in the second half as Arizona played mostly zone throughout the game. Cal stars Ryan Anderson and Ayinde Ubaka scored 16 and 14, respectively, while Theo Robertson, an emerging guard/forward, scored 11.
Arizona outrebounded Cal 38-26. They also out shot them at the free throw line. Cal knocked down 6 of 8 from the charity stripe while Arizona shot a season low 53.6 percent (15-28) from the line.
Chase Budinger commented all of last week how he had finally figured out how to keep his legs fresh. He did more than just talk about it though as the freshman exploded for 23 points in a low scoring, slowdown game with Arizona State. Williams added 19 as the two young forwards carried Arizona to victory. In their first game against Cal, Budinger and Williams combined to make 13 of 16 shots (Williams made all eight of his attempts) as Cal had no one long enough to guard them on the perimeter. Tonight the same mismatches will still be there as only Cal's Robertson has the foot speed to keep up with either. The Bears will play man defense so expect Shakur to play more aggressively as he's proven over the season that he is just not the same player against a zone defense. Radenovic is playing hard, but is having trouble making shots. He's been a bit hesitant and is short-arming his release. Cal doesn't start a true center so look for Arizona to get the ball into Radenovic and Hill to create some spacing and scoring balance.
Anderson is a wonderful player, but he's not alone. Ubaka is a fun point guard to watch as he is clearly controlling every game he plays in. Wilkes is capable of scoring as evidenced by his 5 of 8 shooting against USC last week. Robertson is another Cal player who can put up numbers at anytime in a supporting role. Anderson likes to drive baseline and protecting the baseline has been anything but Arizona's strong suit. If the Wildcats can't contain him and allow him to get to the basket, he could have a big night. The key for Cal is for someone else to get hot because Arizona will afford that luxury to them as they won't even think about double-teaming anyone on Cal except for maybe Anderson (and even that is unlikely). Cal will also have to adjust to Arizona playing man tonight as the Wildcats played mostly zone in their first meeting.
OFFENSIVE EDGE: ARIZONA
The Wildcats played a really tough opponent in ASU on Sunday. Laugh all you will at that statement but I can assure you that Stanford is not taking anything for granted having to play the Sun Devils tonight. Arizona moved much better without the ball, players were setting much better screens, and cutters were making much crisper cuts than they've shown of late. Expect McClellan to get more minutes tonight as Lute will afford him a longer leash to test those legs. Also look for Arizona to continue to set screens about 10 feet from the basket for Budinger and Williams to curl off of toward the lane. If Cal plays man (which they should) Radenovic will have every opportunity to return his game to form. I think he will play better as Arizona will get most of their points from 15 feet and in.
Arizona played zone in McKale and may play a bit of zone tonight. They were able to hold Cal to 33 points in the first half of that game, but that's nothing to brag about. Had Arizona not scored 51 of their own the Wildcats probably would have switched to a man defense at some point during that game. Tonight, expect Arizona to do just that. Shakur will have to prevent Ubaka from getting into the lane. This will be a challenge as Ubaka is one of the most underrated players in the conference. Williams will most likely draw Anderson and although he won't stop Anderson, I think Williams will score enough points of his own to balance things out. Hill should have one of his better opportunity's of the season to roam a bit more freely in the middle so as to contend shots. He may not get many blocks as staying out of foul trouble will be in the back of his mind, but he doesn't have to. If he can just get a hand up and make Cal's drivers think twice about shooting those tear drops then a fair share of them should rim out. Arizona should control the boards, especially when playing man defense. So, if Cal is getting second chance points this could be a sign that something is wrong with Arizona.
Only three things can help Cal stop Arizona tonight: Ubaka shuts down Shakur; the game stays close so the crowd is going bananas; and Arizona misses free throws and easy shots from five feet and in. If all three of those things don't occur, expect another blowout as man for man Arizona gets the edge. Cal will have to commit at least four to the defensive boards to keep Arizona off the offensive glass. They will also have to find a way to provide help defense from the weak side without over rotating, which would leave McClellan, Budinger or Williams wide open for the kick out. Cal is tough, there is no doubt. They've just had trouble competing with teams for an entire game. The first 10 minutes of the second half have plagued Cal throughout the season. Playing at home, this should be less of a problem. Still, Arizona is due for a hot shooting night and if tonight is it then it won't matter much what Cal throws at them.
DEFENSIVE EDGE: ARIZONA
Arizona played much better defense against ASU than they had in previous games. Again, hah, hah, hah, you chuckle. It's true though. Arizona moved their feet well, rotated much better without over committing and had fewer mental lapses. Don't get me wrong, they're far from cured from their defensive inefficiencies but they did look better and right now that's good enough to beat Cal. I say this because Arizona's biggest problem on defense is closing out on jump shooters and that's one thing that Cal does lack. Outside of Wilkes and Ubaka when he's hot, Cal is much more of a mid-range team so that plays into Arizona's strength.
The Wildcats must come in focused and ready to play tonight from the jump. This is definitely one of those Don't-Let-Them-Hang-Around games. If you give Anderson or Ubaka the chance to make a key shot to beat Arizona tonight, there's no doubt in my mind that they will knock it down. So, Arizona needs to jump out to a lead like they did in the first game and then hold on down the stretch.
Can they build as big a lead as they did in the first game with Cal? I doubt it, but they can certainly play this game in the teens all night if they play smart and minimize the turnovers.
Unfortunately, Arizona and turnovers are like peas and carrots this season. Because of that, the final score will look the same as it did a month ago but the overall game will be played much closer.
ARIZONA 75 CAL 66