Cal Preview

It wouldn't be smart to underestimate a hot Cal Bears team, having beaten USC in overtime last night and having a win over Stanford under their belts. It's as close to a must-win for the Bruins tomorrow at Pauley...

UCLA (13-5, 5-3) takes on Cal (14-3, 5-2) on Saturday at 5 PM in Pauley Pavilion.  The Bruins are ranked 13th in the country.  The Bears aren't ranked.  Don't ask me to explain.  I guess the Pac-10 must have a lot of good teams or something.

I better do some analysis.  I have a fever of about 101 right now, but I better do some analysis anyway.  After all, my previous game previews have been so accurate, what would you all do without my cogent yet insightful thoughts?

Cal plays the best man defense in the Pac-10, and the Bears gave up 91 points to USC in double overtime Thursday night.  That makes sense.  They will apply fullcourt pressure or a ¾ zone press when they think it will work.  I assume they've watched tape of the USC and Arizona games, so they must think it will work.  Of course, Cal is built a lot more like Stanford, so maybe Ben Braun and staff will have to stay up late on Friday and watch the UCLA/Stanford game to build their game plan.  Just overplay the ball, extend your man and keep in front of Jason and Billy.  Two down, one team to go.  Cal has the best FG% defense in the Pac-10 and the Bears have earned it:  They just play terrific individual and team defense, usually a straight up man in the halfcourt.  After watching tape of UCLA's last 2 games, they'd be insane to play anything else against the Bruins.

On offense, Cal plays a basic motion set, though the shooting range of 6-10 250 FR C/PF Amit Tamir has given them a lot more options.  Tamir got himself eligible December 15, and with an injury to Solomon Hughes, 6-11 225 SR C, has made himself a major force for the Bears right off the bat.  The plays are pretty simple.  Pretty simple and pretty deadly.  Tamir sets a high pick for one of Joe Shipp, 6-5 220 JR SF, Brian Wethers, 6-5 210 JR SG, Dennis Gates, 6-3 190 SR SG or Ryan Forehan-Kelly, 6-5 195 SR SF.  Jamal Sampson, 6-11 235 FR PF/C, sets a pick low for one of the same as they cut through the lane.  AJ Diggs, 5-10 160 SO PG, or ShanTay Legans, 5-10 175 JR PG, hits a cutter for a shot.  Or the cutter looks inside as Jamal presents a target and Tamir rolls to the basket.  Entry pass, basket.  If not, the pass gets kicked back out.  Tamir might come out to set another high pick, but this time instead of rolling to the basket, he pops out for a 3 off the pick.  Basket.

At least, that's how it's supposed to work.  Cal hasn't shot the ball very well this season, it made 15-28 from 3 against USC and 48.6% of its overall FGs.  Going into the game, Cal was at about 44% and 29%, respectively.  Cal, like Stanford, likes to get out and run whenever possible, forcing breaks and giving up some turnovers to get easy scores.  I wish UCLA could do the same.

Joe Shipp leads the team in scoring (15.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg).  He's the guy you don't want getting off for Cal.  Joe hits 38.6% of his 3s and 81% of his FTs.  The Bruins have to make him put the ball on the floor, though he's pretty good at that as well.  Tamir (10.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg) makes 35.7% of his 3s and 80% of his FTs.  He's got a very nice J and has good ballhandling skills and mobility for such a huge guy.  He could put on some one on one moves that would make Matt Barnes jealous.  Jamal Sampson is pitching in for Pac-10 FOY.  He's averaging 8.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg and 1.9 bpg.  Strong, mobile and explosive, Jamal will play one more season and then go into the NBA Draft lottery.  Solomon Hughes (9.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.3 bpg) was off to a strong start, but has been slow returning from injury and isn't 100% for this game.  The two Cal Cs shoot about as well as Dan from the foul line.  If not worse…

Brian Wethers made 4-6 3s against USC, but he's more of an athletic slasher than a shooter (10.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.0 spg).  He will try to hurt UCLA on the baseline and off the break just like Josh Childress did.  Brian is a strong defender.  Ryan Forehan-Kelly, the former walk on, is a good shooter and smart player (6.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.0 spg, 32.1% from 3) who runs the motion sets exceptionally well.  Dennis Gates is another superb defender, and perhaps the best "role player" in the Pac-10 (5.8 ppg, 3.1 apg, 1.9 spg).  He can handle and pass the ball like a point, will knock down the J on occasion and gives the team real leadership and poise.  He's like a Rico Hines with skills.

AJ Diggs (3.4 ppg, 1.5 spg) is a current walk on who's currently walked over incumbent ShanTay Legans to take the starting PG role.  AJ plays excellent d, does a good job of initiating the offense and is more of a scoring-minded point.  So is ShanTay, come to think of it, which might explain why Braun has taken to playing the 2 5-10 guards together in the backcourt at times.  If that doesn't give UCLA fans nightmares, I don't know what will.  ShanTay (7.4 ppg, 3.5 apg, 1.1 spg, 30.7% from 3) can bury the 3 from NBA range, and certainly came up big against USC.

If Cal's going to get out in front of the Bruins and hold them there, I don't see how UCLA wins this game, unless Ced Bozeman (and Billy Knight and mayb


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