BERKELEY -- Washington started the season 2-3, with an 86-72 loss to UC Irvine, and back-to-back losses to Indiana and Boston College, with none of those losses coming by any less than 11 points. Since then, though, the Huskies have gone 9-3, with their latest win coming in a 71-54 romp over No. 22 Colorado, which lost junior guard – and leading scorer -- Spencer Dinwiddie, after his knee buckled during a fast break late in the first half on Jan. 12 in Seattle, and on Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Haas Pavilion, the Huskies will try to run their conference winning streak to three games against California.
"I don't know that you can use the Colorado game as a gauge, just based on Dinwiddie going down," Bears head coach Mike Montgomery said of the 71-54 win. "That really gook the wind out of their sails. I think Colorado was actually ahead at the time, and they just fell apart. They've got one guard out who's an all-conference player and the other guard goes 0-for, so that's tough."
Washington's only conference loss has come against No. 1 Arizona by nine points, as the Huskies held the Wildcats just under their season average of 75.0 points per game, and to 42.1% shooting – far below Arizona's 48.7% season average.
"They're actually going with a small lineup most of the time and are very active defensively and switching everything and getting up. They looked very good defensively," Montgomery said. "Washington's pretty good. They initially had some issues trying to figure out what to do, and I think Lorenzo [Romar]'s figured out, ‘Maybe my best lineup is smaller,' and he'll come with Desmond Simmons at the four off the bench, and he'll come with [Shawn] Kemp at the five and he's pretty much playing [Nigel Williams-]Goss, who's a really good point guard with a great mid-range floater. Andrew Andrews can go off, so they're pretty good."
While Washington was able to perform well defensively against Arizona, over the first 17 games, the Huskies are 11th in the conference in defense, allowing an average of 75.1 points per game. That could play right into the Bears' hands, as they are averaging 76.4 points per game and holding opponents to 68.5 points per game.
Offensively, over the past four games Cal has been without freshman Jabari Bird or redshirt junior Ricky Kreklow six players have scored in double figures in at least two games apiece.
With a starting lineup that, most nights, doesn't have more than one player taller than 6-foot-5 (6-foot-9 center Perris Blackwell), the Huskies could provide some match-up issues – at least on the defensive side for the Bears -- but Montgomery, for one, isn't concerned.
"I don't know that we can't handle the four, match-up wise, in terms of being smaller and quicker," he said. "They've done a real good job of […] they know that that's a concern. [Mike] Anderson has done a really good job of fronting and they protect it really well. They really switch everything and they switch really aggressively."
That lack of size certainly hasn't hurt Washington's shot-blocking ability, as even without two quality bigs, the Huskies are averaging just under one block per game less than Cal, which ranks seventh in the conference with 4.44.
Beyond David Kravish and Richard Solomon, though, Cal doesn't have a ton of size either. Freshman Kameron Rooks and redshirt sophomore Christian Behrens combine to average just 16.9 minutes per game. Playing against a smaller lineup may actually be a blessing in disguise, particularly with the return of Bird set for Wednesday night in what will be his first conference game.
"Oregon played with only one big guy, and Oregon State played four on one. Even Stanford played four on one, but in terms of the height difference, I've been guarding wings, I feel like, the whole entirety of the season, it feels like, so we've got to come out and play hard," Kravish said.
Cal has had five players average in double figures over the past three games in conference, while Washington has had three players average in double figures over its first four conference games -- C.J. Wilcox (20.5), Andrews (13.5) and Nigel Williams-Goss (11.5).
"Wilcox is really a good shooter," Montgomery said. "He's as good a shooter as there is in the country, I think. He's got great range, a really quick release, gets his feet set."
Wilcox ranks second in the Pac-12 in scoring with his 20.5 ppg overall average, right behind Oregon State's Roberto Nelson, who went off for 26 points against the Bears on Saturday, though he scored just two baskets in the second half as Cal completed its third straight road win to start Pac-12 play.
"I just think we're starting to show what we're capable of. From the beginning, I knew this team had a really high ceiling. I think we can really do some good things and really take this program pretty far," Kravis said. "It's like Jordan said: We've got a bunch of guys who are capable of doing some really good things, and when we have this many weapons, this many good players, it takes the pressure off of a bunch of guys, because nobody has to be on every single night. Nobody has to carry the load by themselves, because there are so many guys that are right there with them. I think that really adds to our team chemistry, because people aren't feeling pressured to perform, to have the best game of their life, every single night. Everybody can just play hard and things are going to happen for somebody. Somebody's going to step up, and nobody has to score 30 points a game for us to win, because it's going to be evened out."
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