'Fifty-Fifty', 'Even-Steven', 'Stanford-Berkeley'. Wait, Stanford-Berkeley? On the hardwood, you better believe it. Over the past 2 seasons, no other Pac-10 schools have played it closer than the two Bay Area Universities. From their individual records to their post-season efforts, it would be nearly impossible to draw a line between these two heated rivals. However, I am not sure that either side wants to hear that.

"> 'Fifty-Fifty', 'Even-Steven', 'Stanford-Berkeley'. Wait, Stanford-Berkeley? On the hardwood, you better believe it. Over the past 2 seasons, no other Pac-10 schools have played it closer than the two Bay Area Universities. From their individual records to their post-season efforts, it would be nearly impossible to draw a line between these two heated rivals. However, I am not sure that either side wants to hear that.

">

Game #27: Cal at Stanford

<p class="txt">'Fifty-Fifty', 'Even-Steven', 'Stanford-Berkeley'. Wait, Stanford-Berkeley? On the hardwood, you better believe it. Over the past 2 seasons, no other Pac-10 schools have played it closer than the two Bay Area Universities. From their individual records to their post-season efforts, it would be nearly impossible to draw a line between these two heated rivals. However, I am not sure that either side wants to hear that. </p>

Last year the Cardinal finished 12-6 in the Pac-10 Conference, 20-10 overall. Their season ended in the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament to Kansas in St. Louis, basically a home game for the Rock-Chalk Jayhawks. The Bears also finished 12-6 in the Pac-10, 23-9 overall. Cal had their season stopped in the 2nd Round of March Madness losing to Pitt - in Pittsburgh - in what was essentially a home game. In head-to-head competition they split. Sound like the same record so far? Well, its even more balanced as Cal enters Maples Pavilion this Saturday at 13-4 in the Pac-10, 20-6 overall. In the Bears 26th game of the year, they won their 20th game. The Cardinal enter their home finale also 13-4 in Pac-10 play, 22-7 overall. In Stanford's 26th game of the year, they won their 20th game. The comparisons are eerie even if the season series isn't a split just yet.

It'll be sixty-three days between this Saturday's match-up and the last time they hooked up at Haas Pavilion. In my preview before the first Cal-Stanford game this year, I wrote "this will be the single most important game Cal will play all season in the Pac-10'. That has held up. With the victory that night, Cal opened the conference season the right way at home. They also managed to put the Cardinal a game behind them for nearly the entire Pac-10 season. Beating Stanford enabled the Bears to gain confidence when they were a team still searching for their chemistry, and it also showed the Bears had some youngsters who could really step it up when the team needed them. That night, Cal got a foot up, a lift up, and a push-up towards the NCAA Tournament. It was the full-Monte equivalent of a tree-chop.

Nonetheless, Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery has done a superb job this year. The Cardinal have played outstanding basketball under his leadership. The big difference between last year's squad and this year's seems to be maturity, chemistry, and hard-work. Stanford plays like a blue-collar team with their goal being to out-work their opposition. They are a very deliberate team and their plays often look choreographed. Coach Montgomery constantly addresses his players about beating other teams to the spot, taking care of the basketball, and playing fundamental positioning in both offensive and defensive sets. Monty doesn't ride his players on shot selection. If he shows his temper, it's because someone forgot to be somewhere on the court. Stanford is consistently one of the best prepared teams in the Pac-10.

A year ago, Josh Childress and Casey Jacobsen did not mesh well. It just seemed as if the entire team had 3 different gears with everyone tugging on each of them. It can be very tough to win basketball games when you haven't decided whether you are a half-court team, an inside-power team, or a fast-break style team. For Coach Montgomery, the solution was two-fold; addressing each player's role and simplifying the team concept. This year, there just haven't been any questions about who the shooters are, or who is supposed to rebound. There aren't any NBA queries about who is going to leave early like those posed by Jacobsen and Borchardt. Losing Teyo Johnson and Chris Hernandez hurt, but you can tell they sulked for about 2 minutes on their way to a 22-7 record this year.

Here is a quick look at the 2002-03 Stanford team

Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning starters in Bold) 2002-03 Statistics

  • PG- Julius Barnes 6'1 185 Sr (15.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, 35% 3-Ptr's)
  • SG- Matt Lottich 6'4 205 Jr (11.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.1 apg, 39% 3-Ptr's)
  • SF- Josh Childress 6'8 200 So - (14.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 34% 3-Ptr's)
  • PF- Justin Davis 6'9 245 Jr (10.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.3 apg)
  • C- Rob Little 6'10 275 So (8.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg)

Reserves:

Every year there is a surprise team out of the Pac-10, and this year I believe that honor goes to the Cardinal. Some writers might say the same for Cal, so both these programs again find a way to be even. Like many other quality teams who annually qualify for the NCAA Tournament, Stanford has balance. No Cardinal starter averages more than 16 points per game or less than 8 points per game. Each player functions in the offense using screens off high-low sets, resulting in great spacing and crisp offensive sets. Justin Davis and Rob Little usually put the screens down, and Stanford runs their plays smoothly. I have yet to see another Pac-10 team practice their perimeter passing more than the Cardinal, and it shows. Some of their offensive sets are predictable, especially when you see Lottich working twice as hard to cut around a screen for a look. However, the plays usually work. Their defense works too, as they are #1 in defending the three-pointer, #2 in rebounding, and the #1 defensive team overall. In fact, make no mistake about it, the Cardinal win with defense. Stanford is currently #7 in average points per game, 8th in free-throw percentage, and 6th in field goal percentage.

The back court is led by Stanford's lone senior, Julius Barnes, perhaps the Pac-10's best point/shooting combo guard. I have always had a close eye on Julius since he he played in the same HS league that I did as a youth, and his athleticism is pretty spectacular. I have a feeling that somewhere down the line, due to his athleticism and point guard skills he has an outside shot in the NBA. Now a senior, Barnes has learned how to harness his tempo - though not his shot selection. He holds the title as the least trigger-shy guy in the Pac-10, hoisting up 382 shots this year, including a league lead 193 from the arc. Joe Shipp is the only one to out-shoot him in total shots, but  Joe has only taken 101 from three-point land. In other words, Barnes is a bomber. Ditto for his back court mate, junior Matt Lottich. The designated run-and-shoot guy this year in the Stanford offense, Lottich has put up the second most three pointers in the Pac-10 this year with a 172. Freshman Jason Haas and Dan Grunfeld back up the starting duo. Haas (who has just 5 buckets the whole year), plays the point while Grunfeld (the son of Bucks GM Ernie Grunfeld), will sub in for Lottich.

In the front court, Josh Childress has arrived. In my opinion, he is the most underrated player in the Pac-10 conference as he gets little national attention. Childress shows leadership despite being just a sophomore, rebounds with a frame that is slight, and scores on jump hooks and three-pointers. He also has a penchant for hitting clutch shots when the offense is stagnant, and what I like about Childress the most is that he has become assertive and tough. Josh is Stanford's most effective all around player. Like Oregon's Luke Jackson showed his sophomore year, Childress has become one of the toughest match-ups in the Pac-10. Also starting in the front court are Justin Davis and Rob Little, with Davis and Childress teaming up as two of the Pac-10's top three overall rebounders. Everyone in Berkeley knows Justin's name and game, and the junior is back and playing well after he injured his ankle during the first contest between these two teams. Rob Little keeps improving, although you can sense a pattern with his game. He works hard early in the first half to score, and once he's established that he usually just tries to play for position. Little has put together some stretches that were pretty impressive, but he can disappear. Nick Robinson, Matt Haryasz, and Joe Kirchofer back up the starting trio, with Robinson even getting some starts when Davis was out with the bum-ankle. Robinson actually defines this team with his blue-collar hustle. Haryasz has shown a nice touch when he's been given a chance, and I like his confidence. For Cal fans, Haryasz has a lot of Nick Vander Laan in him.

California 2002-03 Team

Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starters in Bold) 2002-03 Statistics

  • PG- Richard Midgley, 6'1 200 Fr. (9.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.0 apg, 45% 3-ptrs)
  • SG- Brian Wethers, 6'5 215 Sr. (15.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.2 apg, 37% 3-Ptr's)
  • SF- Joe Shipp, 6'5 220 Sr. (21.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 37% 3-ptrs)
  • F- Amit Tamir, 6'11 260 So. (16.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.3 apg, 45% 3-ptrs)
  • C- Gabriel Hughes, 6'11 230 Jr. (2.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.0 bpg)

Reserves:

Though Cal and Stanford are about as even as any two teams in the Pac-10 over the past 24 months, they will be separated after this contest. If the Bears have an advantage, it's that they won the first game earlier this year - two straight in the series. A lot of people will point to this being a revenge game for Stanford, and that all Cal has left is to simply play for the two seed. That's nonsense. This is a rivalry game, and the Bears haven't won at Maples since 1993,  the last time they swept the Cardinal. If you want to define what the two or three seed means though, I think its pretty simple; the two seed is the better team. Whenever you have one game to decide who's the best, I just say, "It is the opportunity that everyone wants". Both teams will bring it.

The first game at Haas Pavilion this year was quite physical. Both contests in 2002 were the same way, and I wouldn't be surprised if someone came out with a shield and catcher's mask. Paris and Little had a combined 500 lbs banging against each other in the post, Davis missed nearly a half-dozen games afterwards, and Diggs and Barnes might as well have traded shorts. It was one of the most physical games yet seen at Haas Pavilion. I don't expect the body-blows to change much on Saturday night.

For Cal offensively, Amit Tamir probably is one of the most difficult match-ups for the Cardinal in the Pac-10. Tamir is an excellent high post player, and statistically he places both 6th in rebounding and in points per game. Though he lacks foot-speed and jumping ability, he makes up for it with his passing, accuracy, and smarts. Amit is also shooting 45% on threes and 82% from the stripe, good enough for 4th and 9th place respectively in the Pac-10. Stanford has no one like Tamir, and with Justin Davis slotted to accept the assignment on him, it could be a long night for JD. Keep in mind that Davis still isn't moving 100% on that ankle, and I believe the Bears will want Tamir around the perimeter to pull Davis away from the hoop. Tamir's presence out around the arc will allow the Bears to spread the court and use the back-cut play which has been working very well in the last few games. Tamir is also coming off a 5 for 5 shooting game from behind the arc this past Saturday against ASU - so there's a lot of weapons right there. One interesting statistic that you won't hear about is that Tamir has never made a 3-pointer against the Cardinal! Call that a freak statistic or flaw, but Tamir is actually 0 for 10 lifetime against Stanford. He's had some pretty good games overall, he just hasn't hit a long range jumper. Go figure.

Cal also has a few other favorable match-ups. Joe Shipp is a veteran who can make the younger Childress work hard offensively and defensively, and Joe is always eager to play against a fellow L.A native small forward. Shipp has the body to cause Josh problems, and he did that earlier this year when he went off for 18 points and 10 rebounds, including 7 offensive boards. Brian Wethers is also swift enough to get around the screens set for Matt Lottich, and his overall speed and driving ability should cause Lottich a number of problems. While Wethers posted 16 points (8 of 11 shooting), 5 rebounds, and 3 assists in the first game, Lottich put up a donut up by going 0 for 5 from the floor, with 2 rebounds and 4 assists. Brian is by far the #1 offensive advantage for the Bears. David Paris should also play a number of minutes in this game since he is a great match-up on Rob Little, and Paris played his best game this season against the Cardinal. Look for Donte Smith to see some time to run with Barnes, as you can tell Smith is healthier now.

Defensively, the Bears are sure to be attacked in the paint more this game than in the first.  At the outset, it'll likely be Amit Tamir and Gabriel Hughes who are targeted. Again, Stanford is a deliberate team and most of their offensive plays are planned out. In the first contest between these two, it was evident that Stanford wanted to get the ball inside early. They went mostly to Rob Little, then Justin Davis. Davis had moments in the first game where he dominated Gabe on pump-fakes. The Cardinal will also look to attack Cal's Richard Midgley. Julius Barnes has excellent acceleration and hops, and he has shown the ability to score from the point. As a team, the Bears are going to have to do their best to make this game "transition-free" and help Midgley out.

"First and foremost he's a competitor. I have come to appreciate his competitiveness. He brings it to practice every day ... I have never seen him take the day off. He goes so hard that I sometimes want to back him off, but he won't let me. He took the competitive and tough road, and I'm sure glad that he did. I can't think of where we would be without him. He made some big plays this year - drawn charges, hit big shots and come up with loose balls and rebounds. He gives us a lot offensively because he's a threat. You can't ignore him. USC tried to ignore him and he torched them for his career high. If you pressure him, he's capable of getting to the basket. He's also pretty good at drawing fouls. He's got a real aggressive mentality. I have no worry where he plays, having Richard Midgley on the floor helps our team. He can play point guard or off-guard, I have no worries about him playing either one. He's smart, tough and unselfish - three pretty good qualities for a player to have." - Cal Coach Ben Braun on Richard Midgley

Whether that comment was designed to pump up Richard for this game, we'll never know. I will say that quote is the most positive and encompassing statement I have ever heard from Coach Braun on a freshman player. Since I readily admit to being a Midgley fan, I think it backs up a lot of how I feel about his skills. He is a star, and whether you want to call him 'Sir Richard, Richard the Lionheart, or even the 5th Beatle - Midgley is a special player. Julius Barnes will likely try to penetrate a lot more than he has in the past two games against Cal, so Richard is a key figure in this game. Cal has controlled the tempo against the Cardinal in the past two games, so I believe Stanford will want the pace faster on Saturday night. Midgley and Diggs combined effort on Barnes will play a big factor in how Cal does defensively.

Cal's defense around the three-point line and their team rebounding can be suspect. We could see Stanford fire up a number of three pointers as the game goes along, especially given that opponents are hoisting the three ball against the Bears more than any other team in the Pac-10. Even though Cal ranks 5th in the Pac-10 in three-point defense, teams have shot 554 threes against them this year, connecting on 186. That's the most three pointers attempted, and the second most made. Coincidentally, Stanford forces a lot of three's as well, so in a scoring-fest we could see a number of bombs. Since a number of Stanford's offensive sets deal with the 3-point shot, stopping the Cardinal in the half-court is frequently going to come down on how you defend the three point shot. Again, that's not a Cal strength.

Both Cal and Stanford are qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Prior to the first game on January 4th at Haas Pavilion, I felt it was more important for the Bears to win than it was for the Cardinal. With that said, this game might be more important for Stanford. It does appear that both teams are on a collision course for another contest at the Staples Arena on Friday, March 14th in the 2nd Round of the Pac-10 Tournament and it's clear the Cardinal don't want to walk in losing two straight at home. Since Cal and Stanford have both dropped games to teams who are still fighting it out for the last few tournament positions, the collision course could be thrown off too. Both USC & Oregon State were tough foes for both Bay Area schools, and Washington has a win over the Cardinal. UCLA pinned their lone home win on the Bears.

This contest will come down to who wants to be the best, so we should see a very entertaining game. As an observer, I love these types of contests. These are two of the best three teams in the Pac-10 this year, which makes this the toughest game to call -- but I am going with the Bears. Looking purely at defense, some could choose the Cardinal. And against top 25 teams, Cal is 2-3 while Stanford is 4-2. Stanford has dropped just one home game all year in conference player (again, just like Cal). Offsetting that are the favorable match-ups for Cal. The game-flow this round will probably be very similar to the first -  controlled, tough, even counter-punching. While visiting the Cal Basketball office, right after the ASU game, I heard one coach asking a guest, "How would you beat Stanford?", a sign of intense focus. That help's me predict a final score of 77-72 Cal with the MVP going to Brian Wethers.

I am currently 22-4 in predictions for the year.

============

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\r\n","mobileBody":"

Last year the Cardinal finished 12-6 in the Pac-10 Conference, 20-10 overall. Their season ended in the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament to Kansas in St. Louis, basically a home game for the Rock-Chalk Jayhawks. The Bears also finished 12-6 in the Pac-10, 23-9 overall. Cal had their season stopped in the 2nd Round of March Madness losing to Pitt - in Pittsburgh - in what was essentially a home game. In head-to-head competition they split. Sound like the same record so far? Well, its even more balanced as Cal enters Maples Pavilion this Saturday at 13-4 in the Pac-10, 20-6 overall. In the Bears 26th game of the year, they won their 20th game. The Cardinal enter their home finale also 13-4 in Pac-10 play, 22-7 overall. In Stanford's 26th game of the year, they won their 20th game. The comparisons are eerie even if the season series isn't a split just yet.

It'll be sixty-three days between this Saturday's match-up and the last time they hooked up at Haas Pavilion. In my preview before the first Cal-Stanford game this year, I wrote \"this will be the single most important game Cal will play all season in the Pac-10'. That has held up. With the victory that night, Cal opened the conference season the right way at home. They also managed to put the Cardinal a game behind them for nearly the entire Pac-10 season. Beating Stanford enabled the Bears to gain confidence when they were a team still searching for their chemistry, and it also showed the Bears had some youngsters who could really step it up when the team needed them. That night, Cal got a foot up, a lift up, and a push-up towards the NCAA Tournament. It was the full-Monte equivalent of a tree-chop.

Nonetheless, Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery has done a superb job this year. The Cardinal have played outstanding basketball under his leadership. The big difference between last year's squad and this year's seems to be maturity, chemistry, and hard-work. Stanford plays like a blue-collar team with their goal being to out-work their opposition. They are a very deliberate team and their plays often look choreographed. Coach Montgomery constantly addresses his players about beating other teams to the spot, taking care of the basketball, and playing fundamental positioning in both offensive and defensive sets. Monty doesn't ride his players on shot selection. If he shows his temper, it's because someone forgot to be somewhere on the court. Stanford is consistently one of the best prepared teams in the Pac-10.

A year ago, Josh Childress and Casey Jacobsen did not mesh well. It just seemed as if the entire team had 3 different gears with everyone tugging on each of them. It can be very tough to win basketball games when you haven't decided whether you are a half-court team, an inside-power team, or a fast-break style team. For Coach Montgomery, the solution was two-fold; addressing each player's role and simplifying the team concept. This year, there just haven't been any questions about who the shooters are, or who is supposed to rebound. There aren't any NBA queries about who is going to leave early like those posed by Jacobsen and Borchardt. Losing Teyo Johnson and Chris Hernandez hurt, but you can tell they sulked for about 2 minutes on their way to a 22-7 record this year.

Here is a quick look at the 2002-03 Stanford team

Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning starters in Bold) 2002-03 Statistics

Reserves:

Every year there is a surprise team out of the Pac-10, and this year I believe that honor goes to the Cardinal. Some writers might say the same for Cal, so both these programs again find a way to be even. Like many other quality teams who annually qualify for the NCAA Tournament, Stanford has balance. No Cardinal starter averages more than 16 points per game or less than 8 points per game. Each player functions in the offense using screens off high-low sets, resulting in great spacing and crisp offensive sets. Justin Davis and Rob Little usually put the screens down, and Stanford runs their plays smoothly. I have yet to see another Pac-10 team practice their perimeter passing more than the Cardinal, and it shows. Some of their offensive sets are predictable, especially when you see Lottich working twice as hard to cut around a screen for a look. However, the plays usually work. Their defense works too, as they are #1 in defending the three-pointer, #2 in rebounding, and the #1 defensive team overall. In fact, make no mistake about it, the Cardinal win with defense. Stanford is currently #7 in average points per game, 8th in free-throw percentage, and 6th in field goal percentage.

The back court is led by Stanford's lone senior, Julius Barnes, perhaps the Pac-10's best point/shooting combo guard. I have always had a close eye on Julius since he he played in the same HS league that I did as a youth, and his athleticism is pretty spectacular. I have a feeling that somewhere down the line, due to his athleticism and point guard skills he has an outside shot in the NBA. Now a senior, Barnes has learned how to harness his tempo - though not his shot selection. He holds the title as the least trigger-shy guy in the Pac-10, hoisting up 382 shots this year, including a league lead 193 from the arc. Joe Shipp is the only one to out-shoot him in total shots, but Joe has only taken 101 from three-point land. In other words, Barnes is a bomber. Ditto for his back court mate, junior Matt Lottich. The designated run-and-shoot guy this year in the Stanford offense, Lottich has put up the second most three pointers in the Pac-10 this year with a 172. Freshman Jason Haas and Dan Grunfeld back up the starting duo. Haas (who has just 5 buckets the whole year), plays the point while Grunfeld (the son of Bucks GM Ernie Grunfeld), will sub in for Lottich.

In the front court, Josh Childress has arrived. In my opinion, he is the most underrated player in the Pac-10 conference as he gets little national attention. Childress shows leadership despite being just a sophomore, rebounds with a frame that is slight, and scores on jump hooks and three-pointers. He also has a penchant for hitting clutch shots when the offense is stagnant, and what I like about Childress the most is that he has become assertive and tough. Josh is Stanford's most effective all around player. Like Oregon's Luke Jackson showed his sophomore year, Childress has become one of the toughest match-ups in the Pac-10. Also starting in the front court are Justin Davis and Rob Little, with Davis and Childress teaming up as two of the Pac-10's top three overall rebounders. Everyone in Berkeley knows Justin's name and game, and the junior is back and playing well after he injured his ankle during the first contest between these two teams. Rob Little keeps improving, although you can sense a pattern with his game. He works hard early in the first half to score, and once he's established that he usually just tries to play for position. Little has put together some stretches that were pretty impressive, but he can disappear. Nick Robinson, Matt Haryasz, and Joe Kirchofer back up the starting trio, with Robinson even getting some starts when Davis was out with the bum-ankle. Robinson actually defines this team with his blue-collar hustle. Haryasz has shown a nice touch when he's been given a chance, and I like his confidence. For Cal fans, Haryasz has a lot of Nick Vander Laan in him.

California 2002-03 Team

Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starters in Bold) 2002-03 Statistics

Reserves:

Though Cal and Stanford are about as even as any two teams in the Pac-10 over the past 24 months, they will be separated after this contest. If the Bears have an advantage, it's that they won the first game earlier this year - two straight in the series. A lot of people will point to this being a revenge game for Stanford, and that all Cal has left is to simply play for the two seed. That's nonsense. This is a rivalry game, and the Bears haven't won at Maples since 1993, the last time they swept the Cardinal. If you want to define what the two or three seed means though, I think its pretty simple; the two seed is the better team. Whenever you have one game to decide who's the best, I just say, \"It is the opportunity that everyone wants\". Both teams will bring it.

The first game at Haas Pavilion this year was quite physical. Both contests in 2002 were the same way, and I wouldn't be surprised if someone came out with a shield and catcher's mask. Paris and Little had a combined 500 lbs banging against each other in the post, Davis missed nearly a half-dozen games afterwards, and Diggs and Barnes might as well have traded shorts. It was one of the most physical games yet seen at Haas Pavilion. I don't expect the body-blows to change much on Saturday night.

For Cal offensively, Amit Tamir probably is one of the most difficult match-ups for the Cardinal in the Pac-10. Tamir is an excellent high post player, and statistically he places both 6th in rebounding and in points per game. Though he lacks foot-speed and jumping ability, he makes up for it with his passing, accuracy, and smarts. Amit is also shooting 45% on threes and 82% from the stripe, good enough for 4th and 9th place respectively in the Pac-10. Stanford has no one like Tamir, and with Justin Davis slotted to accept the assignment on him, it could be a long night for JD. Keep in mind that Davis still isn't moving 100% on that ankle, and I believe the Bears will want Tamir around the perimeter to pull Davis away from the hoop. Tamir's presence out around the arc will allow the Bears to spread the court and use the back-cut play which has been working very well in the last few games. Tamir is also coming off a 5 for 5 shooting game from behind the arc this past Saturday against ASU - so there's a lot of weapons right there. One interesting statistic that you won't hear about is that Tamir has never made a 3-pointer against the Cardinal! Call that a freak statistic or flaw, but Tamir is actually 0 for 10 lifetime against Stanford. He's had some pretty good games overall, he just hasn't hit a long range jumper. Go figure.

Cal also has a few other favorable match-ups. Joe Shipp is a veteran who can make the younger Childress work hard offensively and defensively, and Joe is always eager to play against a fellow L.A native small forward. Shipp has the body to cause Josh problems, and he did that earlier this year when he went off for 18 points and 10 rebounds, including 7 offensive boards. Brian Wethers is also swift enough to get around the screens set for Matt Lottich, and his overall speed and driving ability should cause Lottich a number of problems. While Wethers posted 16 points (8 of 11 shooting), 5 rebounds, and 3 assists in the first game, Lottich put up a donut up by going 0 for 5 from the floor, with 2 rebounds and 4 assists. Brian is by far the #1 offensive advantage for the Bears. David Paris should also play a number of minutes in this game since he is a great match-up on Rob Little, and Paris played his best game this season against the Cardinal. Look for Donte Smith to see some time to run with Barnes, as you can tell Smith is healthier now.

Defensively, the Bears are sure to be attacked in the paint more this game than in the first. At the outset, it'll likely be Amit Tamir and Gabriel Hughes who are targeted. Again, Stanford is a deliberate team and most of their offensive plays are planned out. In the first contest between these two, it was evident that Stanford wanted to get the ball inside early. They went mostly to Rob Little, then Justin Davis. Davis had moments in the first game where he dominated Gabe on pump-fakes. The Cardinal will also look to attack Cal's Richard Midgley. Julius Barnes has excellent acceleration and hops, and he has shown the ability to score from the point. As a team, the Bears are going to have to do their best to make this game \"transition-free\" and help Midgley out.

\"First and foremost he's a competitor. I have come to appreciate his competitiveness. He brings it to practice every day ... I have never seen him take the day off. He goes so hard that I sometimes want to back him off, but he won't let me. He took the competitive and tough road, and I'm sure glad that he did. I can't think of where we would be without him. He made some big plays this year - drawn charges, hit big shots and come up with loose balls and rebounds. He gives us a lot offensively because he's a threat. You can't ignore him. USC tried to ignore him and he torched them for his career high. If you pressure him, he's capable of getting to the basket. He's also pretty good at drawing fouls. He's got a real aggressive mentality. I have no worry where he plays, having Richard Midgley on the floor helps our team. He can play point guard or off-guard, I have no worries about him playing either one. He's smart, tough and unselfish - three pretty good qualities for a player to have.\" - Cal Coach Ben Braun on Richard Midgley

Whether that comment was designed to pump up Richard for this game, we'll never know. I will say that quote is the most positive and encompassing statement I have ever heard from Coach Braun on a freshman player. Since I readily admit to being a Midgley fan, I think it backs up a lot of how I feel about his skills. He is a star, and whether you want to call him 'Sir Richard, Richard the Lionheart, or even the 5th Beatle - Midgley is a special player. Julius Barnes will likely try to penetrate a lot more than he has in the past two games against Cal, so Richard is a key figure in this game. Cal has controlled the tempo against the Cardinal in the past two games, so I believe Stanford will want the pace faster on Saturday night. Midgley and Diggs combined effort on Barnes will play a big factor in how Cal does defensively.

Cal's defense around the three-point line and their team rebounding can be suspect. We could see Stanford fire up a number of three pointers as the game goes along, especially given that opponents are hoisting the three ball against the Bears more than any other team in the Pac-10. Even though Cal ranks 5th in the Pac-10 in three-point defense, teams have shot 554 threes against them this year, connecting on 186. That's the most three pointers attempted, and the second most made. Coincidentally, Stanford forces a lot of three's as well, so in a scoring-fest we could see a number of bombs. Since a number of Stanford's offensive sets deal with the 3-point shot, stopping the Cardinal in the half-court is frequently going to come down on how you defend the three point shot. Again, that's not a Cal strength.

Both Cal and Stanford are qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Prior to the first game on January 4th at Haas Pavilion, I felt it was more important for the Bears to win than it was for the Cardinal. With that said, this game might be more important for Stanford. It does appear that both teams are on a collision course for another contest at the Staples Arena on Friday, March 14th in the 2nd Round of the Pac-10 Tournament and it's clear the Cardinal don't want to walk in losing two straight at home. Since Cal and Stanford have both dropped games to teams who are still fighting it out for the last few tournament positions, the collision course could be thrown off too. Both USC & Oregon State were tough foes for both Bay Area schools, and Washington has a win over the Cardinal. UCLA pinned their lone home win on the Bears.

This contest will come down to who wants to be the best, so we should see a very entertaining game. As an observer, I love these types of contests. These are two of the best three teams in the Pac-10 this year, which makes this the toughest game to call -- but I am going with the Bears. Looking purely at defense, some could choose the Cardinal. And against top 25 teams, Cal is 2-3 while Stanford is 4-2. Stanford has dropped just one home game all year in conference player (again, just like Cal). Offsetting that are the favorable match-ups for Cal. The game-flow this round will probably be very similar to the first - controlled, tough, even counter-punching. While visiting the Cal Basketball office, right after the ASU game, I heard one coach asking a guest, \"How would you beat Stanford?\", a sign of intense focus. That help's me predict a final score of 77-72 Cal with the MVP going to Brian Wethers.

I am currently 22-4 in predictions for the year.

============

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