It's arguable Arizona's national title prospects were dashed a season ago when the Wildcats went to Haas Pavilion and lost starting forward Brandon Ashley to a broken foot in the team's first loss of the season. While the Wildcats made a run to the Elite Eight and nearly reached a Final Four, the product on the floor each night simply wasn't what it was with Ashley. On Saturday night, Ashley and company head back to California looking to move to 18-2 on the year and more importantly maintain their lead atop the PAC-12.
Awaiting them will be a California Golden Bears team that to put it moderately has...struggled in recent weeks. After opening PAC-12 play with a win against Washington, the Golden Bears have lost five straight, three at home, to fall into last in the conference. This all comes after getting Cuonzo Martin to take over in the offseason for a retiring Mike Montgomery and bringing back a few quality pieces from last year's team including David Kravish, Tyrone Wallace and Jabari Bird, though the latter has missed nearly half the year with injuries.
On Thursday night the Sun Devils went into Haas and laid a beating on California in one of the worst home losses in school history. So what should we expect from California on Saturday night?
1) Big Three or Four?
California lives and dies with its big guns and lately they've done a lot more dying. Kravish, Wallace and Jordan Mathews have carried the weight most of the season with Bird's injury and even since returning Bird has looked shaky. Still the Wildcats will be facing an offensive attack that is as deep as most in the PAC-12. The Golden Bears don't have the results to show for it thus far but Sean Miller's squad defensively must be on point in hopes of slowing down the different weapons Cal can throw at them.
2) Feasting on the boards
Some truths in college basketball need no explanation. One of those is the rebounding element to this matchup. Predictably, Arizona is one of the better rebounding teams in America as one would expect with the size and strength of its front line. Not as obvious is Cal's track record on rebounding this season. Essentially they don't do it very well and as such one would expect the Wildcats to dominate the boards on Saturday night. Between Kaleb Tarczewski, Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson, the Wildcats send a relentless group of athletes to the boards on misses and have had success all year doing so. If Cal can't find a way to keep the Wildcats off the offensive glass and shorten possessions, it could be another long night.
It sounds simplistic but Cal's running out of time if it already hasn't elapsed. The last month has killed Cal in league play and throughout its resume'. Logic dictates a team with the talent they have should fix things at some point and what better opportunity to do so than against a top ten opponent and conference leader at home. This is Cal's proverbial "Super Bowl" as the expression goes right now and their effort level should be expected to reflect that. It was just two weeks ago the Wildcats looked to have an easy road sweep in the bag when they traveled to Corvallis. Can Sean Miller get his team to not look ahead and avoid another head-scratching conference loss?
8:30 PM MT