Arizona vs. Cal: A California Golden Blogs Q&A preview

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

We asked the guys over at California Golden Blogs for some help in previewing Mike Montgomery's squad, which faces Arizona on Saturday.

1. For obvious reasons, Arizona fans are banking a lot on this season without looking too far ahead. In general, where does the Cal fanbase feel the basketball program is at right now. Is this year one where a lot is expected or is there something down the road that's looking like the bright spot?

boomtho: Cal has been in what I'd call a "steady state" for most of our time under Monty. Without grabbing elite recruits (obviously Crabbe and Bird are kind of the exception), we've still been in the hunt for the Pac-12 title every year (we've finished 1st once - we'll always have 2009-2010!! - and tied for 2nd two other times). At the same time, we've never had overwhelming individual talents that really gave us hope we could go deep in the tournament. All the success we've had has been a result of excellent coaching and a nice balance of good players really buying into Monty's system.

2. Cal was always kind of on the periphery of top Pac-12 teams heading into 2013-14, but what has Mike Montgomery done with the Golden Bears that has them off to quite the fast start in conference play?

boomtho: This is probably the deepest team in Monty's time at Cal. We have a number of bench players who have really found a role in which they can contribute. For example, Behrens, despite missing last year with an ACL injury, has shown really nice touch around the basket and better-than-expected defense. Singer has also come in and provided some nice backup PG minutes. Even freshman Kameron Rooks (who is the size of a small mountain) has really improved his footwork and understanding of defensive positioning, and can give us a few nice minutes with solid rebounding. Once we get Kreklow back and Bird to full strength, we'll really have a strong second unit that should be able to help us extend leads or get us back into games.

3. I think we saw that Justin Cobbs was set to have a stellar year, but Richard Solomon has really grown into his potential that showed in flashes in the past. Hit on what each of them bring. Are they the two most important players for Cal?

boomtho: Yes, I think they are the two most important players for Cal. At the risk of a cliché, Cobbs really is a "true senior leader." He's a tremendous talent but he's developed a nice sense for when to facilitate the offense and defer vs. when to take more of a scoring burden on - I call it the CP3 switch. In addition to his offensive prowess, he's really a great perimeter defender capable of bodying guards up for some disruptive 3/4 court pressure. Solomon has really focused on sticking around the basket this year, after he roamed around the perimeter at times last year. He's developed a nice drop step (over both shoulders) and continues to improve his midrange jumper. In addition, he's great at moving without the ball, and plays really nicely off guard penetration by Cobbs (and to a lesser extent, Matthews and Bird). On defense, he's one pillar of our "twin towers" along with Kravish. Both are excellent shotblockers and rebounders but are able to maintain good discipline and positioning. They will definitely be stretched with Arizona's frontcourt, though.

4. Freshman Jabari Bird has gone through a rough patch with his injury. How much should we expect to see from him? And how much of a pleasant surprise has Jordan Mathews been alongside him?

boomtho: Bird is still getting to full strength, but he's starting to show signs that he's nearly back, such as his mini-explosion during the UCLA loss. He still seems to be half a step slow and looks a little confused on offense (either that or he's decided to be much more passive), but he's a talented shooter who could go off.

As for Matthews, I can't speak for the fanbase but I have been very pleasantly surprised. I knew he was a great shooter coming in, but he's really shown improvement in his off the dribble game, and a nice ability to get to the line. He's struggling with consistency (as most freshman are), but he's definitely a potent scorer if he's on his game.

5. Are there any matchups with the Wildcats that you think could go in the Golden Bears' favor? Seems like a strong bench unit could add a dimension against Arizona's short bench.

boomtho: Hmm, this is tough. Under Monty, one of Cal's advantages has been how well guys play together, rather than finding the mismatches and exploiting them. That said, I think Cobbs vs. McConnell might be one that Cal really needs to win to succeed. Cobbs is a load to guard due to his quickness and strength, and if he's hitting his 3's that day, it's nearly impossible. Cal fans will definitely hope that's the case!

6. To me, Utah really stayed in the game by taking UA point guard T.J. McConnell out of it, thereby denying the ball to Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley in the post. Is Cobbs capable as a bigger, more athletic point guard to do that, do you think? How else do you see Monty going at the UA bigs?

boomtho: Cobbs is definitely capable of making life difficult for McConnell. However, he's not the tallest guard, so McConnell will still likely be able to find post entry lanes from the perimeter. We'll also need Solomon and Kravish to make life uncomfortable for the UA bigs before the catch. Monty doesn't usually like to double, so if they get deep position early, we'll be in trouble.

7. What do you think Cal has the potential to do to pull off the upset, assuming everything goes right?

boomtho: If Cal wins, I think it comes down to two things. First, we would have shot very well from the 3pt line. While Arizona has had elite 2P defense, they've been slightly more generous from 3. Cal has a number of shooters that are capable of spreading the floor, and with Cobbs' ability to penetrate off the bounce, there's a good chance we'll get good looks. The second crucial factory is interior defense and rebounding. While Kravish and Solomon are statistically excellent rebounders, this is probably the most athletic frontline we've seen this year. They're going to have to be diligent in staying attached and consistently boxing it. In addition, they'll need to be able to provide some kind of help on penetration by McConnell and Johnson. If they get into early foul trouble (which has happened a few times this year), we'll be in the hole from the start.

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