Tennis Anyone?

In the opening scene of Woody Allen's current film, Match Point, a tennis ball catches the tape, pops in the air, and then starts to fall. Will it fall over the net for a victory, or settle on the losing side? It's an apt metaphor for the California men's basketball team.

As the team heads to Arizona this weekend for the crucial final two games of their brutal seven game stretch to open the Pac-10 schedule, they are at a tipping point. A split or better could restore their confidence and set up the remainder of the season. Two losses could continue the downward spiral begun with the Oregon State and Stanford contests.

In my previous column, I examined the state of the team as they prepared to meet DePaul in the Pete Newell Challenge in December. The Bears are 3-3 since I wrote that piece. Several questions I raised in that article have not been answered.

Much of the focus has been on the Bears' struggles at the offensive end. I've consistently argued that the more significant problems have been on defense. Eastern Michigan, Oregon State, and DePaul all shot at least 50% from the floor when they defeated Cal, Stanford shot 49%, and Kansas hit 45%. The only game that Cal has won in which the opponent hit 50% from the floor was the Akron game. Cal shot 55% in that game, and it was a relatively high possession game. Similarly, Northeastern shot 49% and lost to Cal in a fast paced game.

These statistics show that the formula for victory is pretty simple. If this team defends, and takes care of the ball, they have an excellent chance to win. When they don't defend, turn it over too much, and miss free throws, the result is the Stanford game.

At the Tuesday afternoon press conference, Coach Ben Braun cited the Bears failure to stop the ball as a major cause of their defensive problems. When the opponent is able to penetrate off the dribble, the Bears bigs must help on defense. Even when they contest the shot and it misses, their bad position can lead to offensive rebounds. This was a big problem in the Stanford game. The Cardinal had 12 offensive rebounds that led to 17 second-chance points.

At times, Cal has struggled with defending ball screens. Braun noted that the defender guarding the ball handler has been slow to close space after Cal's big man shows on the screen. Chris Hernandez took advantage of this on several occasions during the loss to Stanford. It's another example of the importance of pressuring and stopping the ball.

The other common denominator in Cal's losses has been the struggle of Richard Midgley. In the five defeats, the Bears senior guard is shooting 13-44 (29.5%) from the floor, 8-29 (27.5%) on threes, and is averaging 7.8 points per game.

For the season, Midgley is shooting 41% from the floor, 43% on threes, and averaging 10.8 ppg. Midgley had a particularly tough time in the losses to DePaul and Oregon State. Cal needs solid play from their last healthy senior to be successful.

The injury to Martin Smith has really hurt Cal. Smith's experience, defense against smaller guards, and decision making in the open court have been sorely missed. Now with Rod Benson out for at least a month and Smith expected to miss at least two more weeks, Midgley will have to step up and provide senior leadership.

The coaches and players know what they need to do. When they defend, they get out in transition and get some easy baskets. Especially on the road, defense is the key. They did a good job in Los Angeles and they were rewarded. They will have to stop the ball this weekend in Arizona, and get good play off the bench. The injuries to Smith and Benson have compromised Cal's depth. Freshmen Theo Robertson and Jordan Wilkes will be expected to step forward.

Looking at Cal's tough opening conference schedule back in December, with only two of the first seven games at home, 4-3 seemed like a reasonable goal. A split in Arizona will produce that record, and set things up for the Washington series at home. It's up to the players now.


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If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

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As the team heads to Arizona this weekend for the crucial final two games of their brutal seven game stretch to open the Pac-10 schedule, they are at a tipping point. A split or better could restore their confidence and set up the remainder of the season. Two losses could continue the downward spiral begun with the Oregon State and Stanford contests.

In my previous column, I examined the state of the team as they prepared to meet DePaul in the Pete Newell Challenge in December. The Bears are 3-3 since I wrote that piece. Several questions I raised in that article have not been answered.

Much of the focus has been on the Bears' struggles at the offensive end. I've consistently argued that the more significant problems have been on defense. Eastern Michigan, Oregon State, and DePaul all shot at least 50% from the floor when they defeated Cal, Stanford shot 49%, and Kansas hit 45%. The only game that Cal has won in which the opponent hit 50% from the floor was the Akron game. Cal shot 55% in that game, and it was a relatively high possession game. Similarly, Northeastern shot 49% and lost to Cal in a fast paced game.

These statistics show that the formula for victory is pretty simple. If this team defends, and takes care of the ball, they have an excellent chance to win. When they don't defend, turn it over too much, and miss free throws, the result is the Stanford game.

At the Tuesday afternoon press conference, Coach Ben Braun cited the Bears failure to stop the ball as a major cause of their defensive problems. When the opponent is able to penetrate off the dribble, the Bears bigs must help on defense. Even when they contest the shot and it misses, their bad position can lead to offensive rebounds. This was a big problem in the Stanford game. The Cardinal had 12 offensive rebounds that led to 17 second-chance points.

At times, Cal has struggled with defending ball screens. Braun noted that the defender guarding the ball handler has been slow to close space after Cal's big man shows on the screen. Chris Hernandez took advantage of this on several occasions during the loss to Stanford. It's another example of the importance of pressuring and stopping the ball.

The other common denominator in Cal's losses has been the struggle of Richard Midgley. In the five defeats, the Bears senior guard is shooting 13-44 (29.5%) from the floor, 8-29 (27.5%) on threes, and is averaging 7.8 points per game.

For the season, Midgley is shooting 41% from the floor, 43% on threes, and averaging 10.8 ppg. Midgley had a particularly tough time in the losses to DePaul and Oregon State. Cal needs solid play from their last healthy senior to be successful.

The injury to Martin Smith has really hurt Cal. Smith's experience, defense against smaller guards, and decision making in the open court have been sorely missed. Now with Rod Benson out for at least a month and Smith expected to miss at least two more weeks, Midgley will have to step up and provide senior leadership.

The coaches and players know what they need to do. When they defend, they get out in transition and get some easy baskets. Especially on the road, defense is the key. They did a good job in Los Angeles and they were rewarded. They will have to stop the ball this weekend in Arizona, and get good play off the bench. The injuries to Smith and Benson have compromised Cal's depth. Freshmen Theo Robertson and Jordan Wilkes will be expected to step forward.

Looking at Cal's tough opening conference schedule back in December, with only two of the first seven games at home, 4-3 seemed like a reasonable goal. A split in Arizona will produce that record, and set things up for the Washington series at home. It's up to the players now.


©Copyright 2006, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.

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