We traded Q&As with California Golden Bears blog California Golden Blogs to talk hoops and specifically Sunday's game against the Arizona Wildcats. LEastCaostBears and NorcalNick answered some of my questions, and you can check out our answers to some of their questions, here.
1. Cal picked up a solid win against Oregon State last week then followed it up with a big-time win against the Ducks. What came together for the Golden Bears?
LEastCoastBears: Cal actually didn't play all that well in the Oregon State game for 3/4 of the game. Fortunately, the mediocrity of the Oregon State team allowed the Bears to come back from double digit deficit. Other than playing some solid, but not spectacular defense, the Bears were able to finally have someone other than Crabbe making shots. Key 3's from guards Brandon Smith and Tyrone Wallace were instrumental in the Bears pulling off the sweep last week. Playing at home also helps as the opponents didn't execute particularly well down the stretch.
NorcalNick: The easy answer is defense. Cal played horrible defense for about 15 minutes against Oregon State, but finally started to slow OSU down in time to come back from a 12-point deficit to win. The Bears followed that up with 40 minutes of good defense to beat Oregon despite an iffy shooting night. If Cal is going to win games, it will probably have to be with defense.
That said, Oregon State is a below average Pac-12 team and Oregon is without their starting point guard, so I'll leave it up to everybody to decide how much they want to take away from Cal's home sweep.
2. Allen Crabbe is averaging close to 20 points per game. How does he score within the offense to shoot at a pretty good 47 percent?
LEastCoastBears: Crabbe has always been quite an efficient scorer. Of course, our offense is designed to give Crabbe at least one opportunity per possession. Instead of setting up plays for our bigs, we use them to set a high screen and allow Crabbe to catch the ball in stride to either attack the rim or hit a mid range jumper. When Crabbe is well defended, he does sometimes yield to other guys and we end up with freshman Tyrone Wallace jacking up a bad shot (though his shooting has started to come around) or our big Richard Solomon shooting a long jumper.
NorcalNick: Mostly it's just because he's a good shooter. With Jorge Guiterrez and Harper Kamp gone, Allen is the undisputed go-to-guy on this team. As a result he's taking more shots and getting more attention from defenses.
It's a credit to his development as a player that he has actually increased his offensive efficiency this year despite more shots and more attention. He's done that by attacking the basket more, taking better shots and drawing more fouls. If he hadn't made those improvements in his game Cal would be sunk.
3. While Crabbe and Justin Cobbs are the known factors in the backcourt, which guys up front have impressed you up front this season?
LEastCoastBears: Our only big with any post move is Robert Thurman, who is not talented enough to really match up with the more skilled bigs in conference play. David Kravish has a good nice mid range game, but he is still developing and needs to bulk up to be a post presence. Richard Solomon has had some good defensive plays now and then. Beyond those three, I have been pleasantly surprised at times that Bak Bak actually turned in a few serviceable minutes.
NorcalNick: Cal uses a rotation of Richard Solomon, David Kravish and Robert Thurman. Of that threesome, Thurman has impressed the most relative to expectations. After all, Thurman is a former walk-on who is now playing nearly 20 minutes a game and, against the right match-up, can score pretty efficiently.
Richard Solomon is almost certainly the most talented of the threesome, and as a result at times the most frustrating. His length and athleticism make you think that he could be a real defensive prescence and a monster on the glass, but he has only shown that in flashes. He did have an excellent game against Oregon, so there's still hope that he's ready to take the next step in his development.
4. What's one thing you think Arizona fans would be surprised to learn about Cal, perhaps in comparison to last year's team?
LEastCoastBears: For a perimeter oriented team, Cal can't really shoot from the outside consistently. When things go bad offensively, it can be really atrocious.
NorcalNick: I think Arizona fans would be surprised to hear that this has been the least 'Mike Montgomeryish' team I can recall. Whether at Cal or Stanford, Monty always has gotten the most out of his talent and his teams have been tough, disciplined, and consistent. This year's team hasn't had those traits to nearly the same degree. They can look pretty darn good for stretches of a game, but they have rarely put it all together for 40 minutes and Monty has more or less openly challenged the team to bring a level of intensity and effort needed to win games all of the time.
5. Matchup-wise, what are the biggest strengths that you think Cal has against the Wildcats?
LEastCoastBears: Allen Crabbe. He is talented enough to have an insane game where he carries this team offensively against such a highly regarded opponent. Otherwise, this Cal team can be so inconsistent this year that I don't fell comfortable calling anything a strength.
NorcalNick: Like LeastCoastBears mentions, Cal hasn't really been consistent enough with any one particular skill for me to say that they have an obvious match-up advantage. But if the Bears are playing to their abilities, I think they have the ability to slow Arizona's offense down. The Wildcats like to shoot 3s, but Cal has been pretty good about defending the perimeter, and I think if Richard Solomon can stay out of foul trouble he can help defend the paint. If Cal keeps this game close, it will be because their defense turns it into a low scoring affair, like what Washington almost did a little while ago.
6. Biggest weakness?
LEastCoastBears: The Bears have really no depth this year. With the injury to Rickey Kreklow who was expected to be a big contributor and the dearth of impact recruits in the past few seasons, the Bears don't offer much beyond the starting five of Crabbe, Cobbs, Wallace, Kravish, and Solomon. The drop off in talent to key bench guy in Thurman and Smith is pretty significant. When a few of the starters does not play well, the entire offense can just stall.
NorcalNick: Statistically, Cal's inability to shoot and Arizona's ability to prevent teams from making shots scares me the most. Arizona has the athleticism and intensity to pressure Cal's ball-handlers and chase Allen Crabbe around for 40 minutes. And the Bears have struggled against teams that can play intense defense.