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Pre-Game Q&A: California vs. Arizona

When the Arizona Wildcats face off against the California Golden Bears tonight, there will be a lot of pressure. Pressure on the Golden Bears to perform without their recently departed former teammate, Gary Franklin, who has been averaging 8.2 points per game. Pressure on the Wildcats to prove that the game against the Oregon St. Beavers was an anomaly, and that the 'Cats truly are NCAA tournament-worthy. Pressure on Derrick Williams, to prove that while opposing teams will try their best to take him out of the picture this season, he's good enough to get around, over or through whoever is guarding him. And make no mistake, there will be plenty of pressure on coach Sean Miller to prove that he is not a one-trick pony. Everyone that follows Arizona knows coach miller is a top level recruiter. Questions remain, however, on how good of a motivator and strategist he is. There is certainly some wiggle room in this, his second year. Surely some of the struggles are due to inexperienced players, but coach Miller will only get so long before he must prove himself a strong leader.

Ok, on to the fun stuff. Kodiak of 'California Golden Blogs', a Cal blog, was kind enough to do a Q&A session with AZ Desert Swarm. He had some interesting answers to our questions, and gives some good insight into the mindset of Cal fans this season.

1. What player on the Cal roster should Arizona fans be paying attention to?
CGB- Robert Thurman. Because if he's in the game, one of the teams is winning by 20+.
More seriously, I'd pay attention to Gutierrez. He's going to be in the middle of everything. When he's playing under control, he can influence a game with his playmaking on both ends. When he's turning the ball over and pressing, he can destroy any semblance of offensive rhythm that we've got. For fun, see how many ill-advised shots Franklin puts up before he gets benched.
Note: Kodiak's answers were sent in shortly before Franklin left the team.

Check out more questions and answers after the jump.

2. Other than Derrick Williams, who on the Arizona roster worries you the most?
CGB- Probably Kyle Fogg. After Jeremy Green lit us up, I'd have to say that our ability to stop a hot outside shooter is questionable.

3. There has been some talk about Cal's lack of depth. Is this a major issue, or is it an over-hyped excuse for poor freshman play?
CGB- On our roster, we start a sophomore PG(Smith), junior SG(Gutierrez), junior PF(Kamp), senior C(Sanders-Frison), and a frosh SF(Crabbe). The next guys off the bench are a true frosh combo guard(Franklin), true frosh PF/C(Solomon), and a soph PF/C.(Bak Bak) Smith is up/down and looks overmatched by Pac-10 level competition at times. You can draw your own conclusions whether it's "over-hyped" or not, but when Gutierrez/Kamp/MSF are out, there's a fairly significant drop-off because the young guys simply don't seem ready to consistently play Pac-10 level ball. You could almost make that argument for AZ's struggles last year as a young team, but I doubt any intelligent basketball fan would shrug off the importance of experience or lack thereof for most Div-I basketball programs.

4.'s Diamond Leung called the Bruins 'The Big Unknown'. Are Cal fans shocked at the performance of the Bruins so far?
CGB- Not really. After going to three straight Final Fours, it's not like Ben Howland suddenly forgot how to coach. He had some recruiting misses. Now that he has guys buying in and better guard play, they're going to be a tough out.

5. What is the current perception of the Cal basketball team and coaches, among Cal fans?
CGB- Elite level coach who is headed towards the Hall of Fame. We feel in good hands. We're pleasantly surprised with the emergence of Kamp/MSF after their injury struggles last year. We love Gutierrez' effort, but wish he'd play a little more under control. We take a deep breath every game and remind ourselves that our frosh will show growing pains all year.

6. What would you consider necessary for Cal to say they had a 'good season'? NCAA tournament berth? NIT berth?
CGB- An amazing season would be an NCAA berth. Good would be NIT. Sigh-but-not-overly-unexpected would be to be shut out of post-season play and finish either 9th/10th in the league.