Defense The Key Word In Cager Clash

Almost a full week after allowing UNC-Asheville to top the 50-percent mark from the field during the opening round of the NIT, the OSU men's basketball team faces a Cal team tonight that led the Pac-10 in scoring. Needless to say, head coach Thad Matta is worried. However, his anticipation is shared by Cal coach Ben Braun, whose team strugged defensively this season.

Tuesday night in the opening round of the National Invitational Tournament, the Ohio State men's basketball team scored 84 points against UNC-Asheville, the most scored by the squad since it piled up 92 against Maryland-Baltimore County Dec. 29.

But for head coach Thad Matta, another reminder of that game against what would be an NCAA Tournament-bound UMBC squad was not so pretty.

The Retrievers scored 83 points during that game, the most allowed by the Buckeyes this season. So as Matta watched the Buckeyes allow Asheville to score 66 points and shoot nearly 52 percent from the field, the fourth-year head coach was less than pleased.

"I didn't think we defended," Matta said. "As I told them in a timeout, this is Maryland-Baltimore County all over again."

So Matta might have had a Rolaids moment when he realized that next on the docket in the NIT round of 16 is a California team that led the Pacific-10, a league many say might be the best in the country, in scoring with 77.0 points per game. The game tips off at 7 p.m. in St. John Arena.

The Golden Bears compiled such numbers because of excellent offensive efficiency; according to stat guru Ken Pomeroy's website (, they were just 104th in the nation in possessions per game but 31st in scoring efficiency, scoring 110.8 points per 100 possessions.

Those numbers have Matta leery of what the Bears (17-15) bring to the table.

"They're a very high-powered offensive team," he said. "I don't want to try to outscore Cal. I think at some point we have to lock down and guard."

Because of that, Matta said the focus in practice during the nearly week off of time was on the defensive end of the floor. The coach added that there was a "huge premium" on defense during practice and a focus will be on limiting Cal's transition game.

Senior forward Matt Terwilliger backed up Matta's words.

"He talked about the 52 percent," Terwilliger said. "We don't give that up. Bringing in a team like Cal that likes to run, we can't let them shoot 52 percent from the field or they'll run us out of the gym."

Cal head coach Ben Braun said that much of his team's running comes not from a concerted effort to push the ball up the floor all of the time but more from the team taking its chances to move when they present themselves.

"We're an opportunity fast-break team – if we can get the ball down the floor we'll try to do that," Braun said. "We have a point guard in Jerome Randle that's really active and aggressive and some wing players that are pretty good scorers and shooters, and our post guys run pretty well. So that's something we'll try to do."

Ryan Anderson leads the Cal attack, as the 6-10, 240-pound sophomore forward finished the season averaging 21.4 points per game and 9.9 rebounds. Anderson shot 49.3 percent from the floor, 41.7 percent from beyond the arc and 86.8 percent from the free-throw line.

"He is a tremendous player and he does so many things," Matta said. "He can shoot the three, he's got great post moves, and he gets to the foul line. He's just really a very impressive player. (Assistant coach) Archie (Miller) was out at Arizona State last year and he had talked about this kid before."

In addition, guard Patrick Christopher averaged 15.5 points per game while Randle, a sophomore, finished just shy of four assists per game while adding 11.6 points.

Obscured by what Matta believed was lacking Ohio State defense was the fact that the Buckeyes, as previously mentioned, put together one of their best offensive games of the season against Asheville. The Buckeyes shot 56.3 percent from the floor (36-64), were 47.6 percent (10-21) from three-point range and had 20 assists to nine turnovers. They scored 26 points off of 21 UNCA turnovers, though OSU had just six fast break points.

Terwilliger said the Buckeyes enjoyed opening up the offense a little bit after weeks of physical Big Ten play.

"It's definitely a lot of fun, getting up and down because I think that's one of our strengths as well," the senior said.

And for a Cal team that finished last in the Pac-10 by virtue of having allowed 75.2 points per game, the fact that Ohio State might keep the offense open is a scary thought.

"I think our biggest challenge right now is defensively," Braun said. "We've gotten better, but we've got to really be good against Ohio State to be effective."

Who's The Boss?
Bruce Springsteen, of course, and it appears his managerial powers even extend to the Ohio State department of athletics. Because of Springsteen's concert in Value City Arena, the game has been moved to St. John Arena.

In addition, the presence of those seeking to remember the "Glory Days" on campus will affect the parking situation. Fans are being asked to arrive early and allow extra time for travel, and the doors of SJA will open at 5:30 p.m. Fans attending the basketball game are encouraged to use the Lane Avenue and Medical Center Drive exits from state Route 315 and park in the lots and garages around Ohio Stadium south of St. John Arena.

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