The Arizona Wildcats have steamrolled their first five Pac-12 opponents this season, and the opportunity is there for a sixth straight blowout win on Sunday afternoon at Cal.
The Golden Bears (9-9, 2-5) have looked both good and bad this season, so it’s uncertain which version the UA will see at Haas Pavilion. To give us a little more insight, we reached out to Rob Hwang of Write For California.
Here are his enthusiastic answers to our tepid questions:
AZ Desert Swarm: Cal’s 2021-22 season seems like it’s been one of streaks, losing four of six to start before winning five of seven but then dropping the last four. What’s the reason for the latest swoon, and how long do you see it continuing?
Rob Hwang: “It’s a team that plays drastically different on the road and at home. The only issue is the struggle for offensive output has come home and has most of our team in a shooting slump. The defense has been relatively solid all year but with our tempo (one of the slowest in the country) not being efficient scorers hurts us. And we’ve seen no potential changes in speeding up the offense to create some more shots for the team. So in essence? The latest swoon will continue as long as our offense struggles.”
The Golden Bears’ most recent game was a loss last Sunday at Washington State, who not long after went on a COVID pause. Do you think this is going to impact Cal in terms of available players, and if so, how does it respond to those absences?
“I would have to assume so. (Coach Mark) Fox flew up starting PG Joel Brown from Berkeley to Pullman on the day of the game. He had just gotten out of COVID protocol that morning. Joel would make it to Pullman by halftime. Fox would proceed to play him 1 minute.
“Why do I bring up that story? It’s basically to illustrate the curious case of his rotation that clearly has a lack of depth at point guard and yet he sticks with the rotation of players he plans with and doesn’t seem to change that on the fly. We haven’t heard of any players missing out on the game YET. If we do it’ll be interesting to see how Fox manages the rotations.”
6th-year guard Jordan Shepherd has been Cal’s leading scorer, averaging 14.3 points per game overall and 15.9 in Pac-12 play. What’s he do best, and where does he struggle?
“Jordan’s stepped into the Matt Bradley void and has done a lot of the perimeter scoring for the Bears. He’s fearless with the ball, not afraid to shoot it or attack the basket on a high PnR. His struggles sometimes come in his decision making. He’s sometime too aggressive in looking for his basket. He’s also injured his hand early on in the season and still plays with a brace on that hand. It’s definitely affected his play all year as well.”
Cal is one of the better 2-point shooting teams in the conference, but Arizona is very good at protecting the rim. Who is most likely to do the most damage inside?
“This one is way to easy. It’s Andre Kelly. Fun stat is Cal has two of the top five players (in the Pac-12) with double-doubles this season. Andre Kelly and Grant Anticevich. Andre has become a modern big man but with an old school footwork game in the paint. He’ll get his shots and his points.”
How would you assess Mark Fox’s performance in his third year at Cal? Does he have what it takes to make this program competitive again, or is another change likely soon?
“Barring a monumental run to end the season, I’m not convinced he’s the man for the job. He’s stabilized the program a little bit and everyone has high praise for the man, but the wins are not there and haven’t been there for three years. With recruiting also being too many projects or under-recruited players it’s hard to put and expectation or hype into a program that was competitive for years before this 5 year stretch of Wyking Jones and Mark Fox.”
Prediction time. What chance do you give Cal of being able to pull off a monumental upset, or at least keep it close? Give us a score prediction.
“Man. I’m gonna give two predictions. My head says a 77-52 loss. My heart says a 64-60 upset.”