Cal Preview

The UCLA/Cal matchup is a story of two teams very close in talent level, and very similar in pre-season personnel concerns. But it's a case now of two similar teams going in very different directions...

When considering UCLA's chances against Stanford, it seemed like a game that UCLA would have a very good chance to win. Many factors were pointing toward UCLA.


Saturday, against California, all the factors have flip-flopped.  Most of them are pointing toward Cal.


UCLA is 2-3 at Cal in the last five years.  It's lost the last two, by margins of 18 and that humiliating 29 in 2001.  It also lost at Cal in 1999 by 18 points.  In 2002 and 1999 UCLA was ranked going into those losses.


The 29-point loss in 2001 was the worst against Cal in UCLA history. It was also during one of the definite downturns in the Steve Lavin roller coaster ride.  It was during the time when the Rick Pitino rumors were rampant, and Cal fans held up signs of Pitino's face that read, "I got next, Lavin." 


After that loss in 2001 was when there were pretty strong rumblings from Lavin's camp that he was considering resigning.


Combine that with all the factors from this season, and it doesn't look pretty.


In addition, UCLA could very well be without one of its best players and only true inside player that gets minutes, Andre Patterson. Patterson is doubtful for the game, and UCLA will miss not only his athletic contributions, but his fire and aggressiveness.


Cal is perhaps the biggest surprise in the Pac-10. Currently ranked 25th in the ESPN poll, they are undefeated in the conference (6-0, half game behind 7-0 Arizona) and 13-2 overall. Their two losses were very respectable ones, against Kansas and Georgia.  They're on a seven-game winning streak, which includes a 16-point win over then-#10 Oregon.


Cal is surprising since, going into the season, it was thought they'd have to really compensate for some personnel losses.  They lost their two primary big men in Solomon Hughes and Jamal Sampson. And their starting point guard, ShanTay Legans, was supposed to return for his senior season, but decided to transfer to Fresno State.  As a result, they had some similar questions as UCLA – at point guard and in the post.  They have compensated well,  due mostly to three veteran players stepping up huge for them – senior wings Joe Shipp and Brian Wethers, and sophomore forward Amit Tamir – and the emergence of a freshman, point guard Richard Midgley.  And it's helped that Cal coach Ben Braun has done a very good job so far this season, being able to mask their deficiencies quite well.


Up front, they were hurt by the loss of Hughes and Sampson. And inside play is still a weakness. 6-10 Tamir is a true foreign big man, more comfortable on the perimeter shooting than he is mixing it up inside.  He has gotten bigger and stronger from last season, and is now better defending in the post. He's also developed some post moves, which makes him dangerous inside and outside.  He's not overly athletic, and is a positional rebounder, averaging close to 7 a game.  Tamir, though, is a scorer, being able to shoot from anywhere on the court. He's shooting 45% from three.  He particularly likes to catch a pass at the top of the key for that straight-away 15-foot jumper.  


One of the best and most under-heralded players in the conference is 6-5 senior wing Joe Shipp, a product of Los Angeles Fairfax High.  Shipp is having a huge senior season, leading the conference in scoring at close to 21 points a game.  He has become a deadly shooter, with a quick release and he doesn't need a lot of room to get off his shot. With a big, strong body, he also can create his shot fairly well, consistently creating room in mid-range pull-ups.  He's shooting 53% from the field and 44% from three.  Shipp, by the way, grew up a UCLA fan and would have done anything to play at UCLA. 


The other standout senior w

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