Pac-10 Tourney: Cal Preview

#3 seed California comes down south to the Staple Center to take on #6 seed UCLA in the first round of the resurrected Pac-10 Tournament Thursday...

6th seeded UCLA (19-10) takes on 3rd seeded Cal (21-7) at 9 PM in the Staples Center as the new Pac-10 Tournament gets underway on Thursday.

Cal was 4-6 on the road this year and 17-1 at home, so UCLA should probably be favored for this game irregardless of the Bears' 18-point drubbing of the Bruins less than 3 weeks ago at Haas Pavilion. Yes, Cal tied for 2nd in the Pac-10 and UCLA finished 6th, but they only finished one game apart in the standings.

As we've now discussed twice before, Cal typically beats people by playing the best defense in the league (usually a strict man, with some fullcourt pressure man d, but the Bears will lapse into a zone now and then). On offense, Cal will use a Midwestern motion offense, 3 out and 2 in with a lot of body blocks. The Bears' fortunes appear to rest on their inconsistent outside shooting. Cal finished dead last in the Pac-10 in 3-point FG%.

In the matchup at Pauley earlier this season, UCLA won 64-57. Cal hit 37% of its shots overall and 20% of its 3s (5-25). UCLA hit 51.1% of its FGs in a slow, grinding game which saw the Bruins limit the use of their bench and the Bears take way too many 3s for a team that doesn't shoot well even at its best moments.

In the matchup at Haas, Cal won 69-51. The Bears hit 46.3% of their shots and 35% of their 3s (7-20), including 6-11 from 3 in the second half. UCLA hit 42.6% of its FGs and only 16.7% of its 3s (3-18) in one of its worst shooting performances of the season. The Bruins only managed to sink 7-21 FGs in a first half which saw the Bears outscore their fellow Ursidae 33-18. Jason Kapono, Matt Barnes and Billy Knight were a combined 9-26 from the field.

So, UCLA will shift between its 1-2-2 matchup zone and man and try to find a defense that both keeps the ball out of the lane and allows Cal to miss its 3s. On offense, the Bruins must set better picks for each other or they will continue to struggle against the best defensive team in the Pac-10. In short, be prepared for an ugly, low-scoring game.

ShanTay Legans, 5-10 175 JR PG (7.7 ppg, 3.9 apg), Dennis Gates, 6-3 195 SR SG (6.2 ppg, 2.4 apg), and AJ Diggs, 5-10 160 SO PG (3.2 ppg, 1.5 apg), man the backcourt. All 3 guards do a good job of taking care of the ball (Cal has the best TO margin in the Pac-10), as well has hawking the other team's PG. Both ShanTay and Dennis are good foul shooters, but none of Cal's guards has been consistent from behind the arc this season. Cal's guards rarely penetrate into the key. ShanTay usually starts, but Cal might use all 3 guards at the same time later in the game.

Joe Shipp, 6-5 220 JR SF (14.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg), Brian Wethers, 6-5 210 JR SG/SF (9.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg), and Ryan Forehan-Kelly, 6-5 195 SR SF (7.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg) man the wings for the Bears, with Joe and Brian starting. Joe is by far the team's best shooter (36.1% from 3) and scorer. He hit 3-4 3s against UCLA at Cal. Brian is a powerful slasher and an excellent defender, perhaps the best individual defensive guard/wing in the Pac-10. Ryan is an excellent outside shooter (38.8% from 3) and another good defender.

In the post, Cal uses Solomon Hughes, 6-11 225 SR C (8.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg), Jamal Sampson, 6-11 235 FR C/PF (7.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg), and Amit Tamir, 6-10 250 FR PF (11.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg). Solomon and Jamal have blocked 74 shots together this season, but are much stronger on help d than they are stopping a tough big man inside (though Jamal locked up Sam Clancy at Haas, and how many guys have done that this year?). All 3 players are mobile and athletic. Solomon and Jamal tend to score inside of 5 feet, Tamir from 10 feet out (but he can post up as well and is the best ballhandler of the bunch). Tamir, from Israel, was scoreless against UCLA at Pauley, but scored 18 against the Bruins up north and hit 3-8 3s (he's made 35.2% from 3 for the season) . Solomon and Jamal start and Tamir comes off the bench.

On offense, the Bruins will continue to get the ball into Dan Gadzuric's hands as much as possible. Both Solomon and Jamal are foul-prone. As noted above, UCLA must set better picks to run its motion offense more effectively against Cal. Lavin has indicated that he will play the four FR and TJ Cummings as a unit again. This is good: They all set screens for each other.

Even better, the young players can play an energetic man d and extend it into a press. Cal has less trouble with pressure d than any other team in the Pac-10, mainly because of ShanTay Legans, but at least UCLA can now play some credible man d. If the Bears are cold from 3, UCLA will stick with its 1-2-2 matchup zone. Look for both Ced Bozeman and Ryan Walcott to see time with the vets, and possibly with each other and 3 vets.

I wish that I could reveal to all of you some new strategy or tactic that Lavin will use against the Bears, but I can't. Apart from getting the FR more PT, there's nothing more that Lavin can do with this team. The same is true of Ben Braun and his own team. Nobody will be pulling any rabbits out of any hats here. Both Lavin and Braun know what the other guy brings to the table. It's all going to come down to execution. Cal must hit some 3s to win. UCLA must find some way of generating good shots to win.

Prediction: Cal 62, UCLA 59.

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