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GAME THREAD: California at No. 9 WSU

Posted by Jeff Nusser on January 31, 2008

Cougars (17-2 overall, 5-2 Pac-10) at Bears (11-7, 2-5)

Beasley Coliseum (Pullman, Wash.), 7 p.m. PT
TV: None

Oregon State notwithstanding, Cal is about as close to an easy opponent as you’re going to get in the Pac-10 — which, once I start telling you about Cal, ought to tell you just how freaking tough the Pac-10 is this year.

The Cougs pretty well dominated the Bears last year, and you can chalk that up to one factor: They were horrific from beyond the arc in those two games, just 7-of-29 and 6-of-22 — 25.4 percent. And as was on full display on Saturday, a team shooting the 3 poorly against the Cougs is a team that usually loses.

One problem: Offensively, these Bears are much better than they were a year ago. Their offensive efficiency (what’s that?) has jumped from 105.1 to 112.8, and their effective field goal percentage (huh?) has jumped from 51.2 to 54.8.

Quite simply, they’re a better offensive team this year because they’re a better shooting team, and they’ve proven they can score on anybody — they’ve exceeded a 100 efficiency rating (the benchmark for solid offense) in every game but three, including all Pac-10 games but the one against UCLA, and they have exceeded 50 percent in effective field goal percentage (another benchmark) in every game but four. That’s not likely to change against WSU, unless they have an uncharacteristically bad shooting night.

But while we can wring our hands over what Cal might do offensively, trust me when I say that the Bears will be rightfully more worried about the Cougars are going to do offensively. Cal is a bad defensive team, something that ought to be obvious from the fact that despite all the offensive fireworks, the Bears are 2-5 in the conference and just a few games over .500 overall.

Cal has yet to even really come close to stopping a legitimate conference opponent. (Oregon State doesn’t count.) While UCLA and USC were around 107 in offensive efficiency, Oregon (116.5), Arizona (121.0), Stanford (121.4) and Arizona State (126.3) all exceeded a 116 efficiency against the Bears. That’s not just bad defense; that’s terrible defense. And as we’ve said here all year, the Cougs are one of the best offensive teams in the country, something that’s lost on most everyone because they don’t score a lot of points per game. Their overall offensive efficiency rating is 114.8 — ninth nationally. They’ve been especially beastly at home.

The moral of the story? The Cougs are going to score points and they’re going to win, but this is the kind of game I wouldn’t bet on if my life depended on it. The Cougs are favored by 11, but the score could be 70-65 as easily as it could be 70-55. It all depends — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — on whether Cal hits some 3s.

Other keys that could influence the flow, if not necessarily the outcome, of the game:

— Tony Bennett stole a little bit of my thunder when he pronounced Ryan Anderson (above) “one of the most underrated kids in America,” something I was going to say today. Seriously, in what other big-time conference can you imagine an agile, inside-outside 6-foot-10 big man leading the league in scoring, nearly averaging a double-double, and getting less press than this guy does? He shoots 44 percent from 3-point range. Did I mention he’s 6-10? He probably holds the key, more than anyone, as to whether this game is close. If he goes off, watch out. The challenge for Robbie Cowgill, Daven Harmeling and Caleb Forrest will be to make him one-dimensional by enticing him into contested 3s. They’ve got their hands full.

— Tempo could be a factor. Cal likes to hit 70 possessions in a game; WSU is most comfortable around 58. The Cougs know the Bears would really like to push the tempo, of course, the best way to keep a fast break in check is to make shots, something the Cougs should be able to do. If, for some reason, the shots aren’t dropping, that could become problematic because they’re going to drop four guys back on every miss to keep the Bears from running. Expect very few offensive rebounds.

— That probably will be the best way to keep Cal’s second-leading scorer Patrick Christopher in check, too. He’s a slashing guard who is long and money on the fast break. He also can shoot the 3 sufficiently, hovering around 40 percent from beyond the arc, but Kyle Weaver should be able to contain him if he doesn’t get open looks.

— DeVon Hardin is a very good interior player who is skilled at getting to the free throw line — 26th nationally in free throw rate — if not skilled at making the shots when gets there (62.5 percent). He’s also an exceptional rebounder (8.2 per game). If the tandem of Aron Baynes and Robbie Cowgill can defend him the way they defended Jeff Pendergraph — another player skilled at getting fouled — last week, he shouldn’t be much of a factor. But he could just as easily get both of them in foul trouble.


    19 Responses to “GAME THREAD: California at No. 9 WSU”

    1. Nuss said

      According to Vince Grippi at the S-R, DeVon Harding is sick and won’t play. Won’t make this a walkover, but it makes this a heck of a lot easier. That guy was a real concern for me.

    2. Longball said

      Wow, they dont have Harden and we still allow them to completely play their tempo and jump out to a lead late in the half. We really are a terrible team in the first half.

    3. Nuss said

      Sometimes, it sucks to be right. Cal is shooting its way into this game with five 3s, and the tempo is too close to what the Bears want. We have got to contain Anderson better. With no Hardin to contend with, we’ve got to make a more dedicated effort to stopping him.

      Crazy stat of the night so far? The Cougs have 35 points but only two 3s on six attempts. We certainly are doing what we want to offensively. Now we need to get that defense in order. Stopping the turnovers, which are leading to fast break chances, will help.

    4. Longball said

      Its 0-0 and we are a second half team. DE – FENCE! It was nice to see us tear them up so bad in the paint offensively. Bud said we went to a zone, how often does that happen? What kind of gambit is tony playing?

    5. Nuss said

      Bud just said the Cougs have nine offensive rebounds and seven second chance points. Seven? That’s horrible. Cougs down eight, as Ryan Anderson is killing them, 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. It sucks to be right. Really, really sucks.

    6. Nuss said

      Cougs down one with five to go. Cal shooting 50 percent from 3 — 9 of 18. The Bears didn’t even hit nine combined in their two games against the Cougs last year …

    7. Nuss said

      How in the world do you

      a) Take a 3 that gets blocked when you’re down by one with 30 seconds to go, and …
      b) Let Anderson catch it in that must-foul situation.

      This is a breakdown of epic proportions for such a veteran team.

    8. Longball said

      Ok, while i dont necessarily disagree with the whole road weeirness theory, the bottom line is this team has regressed. That is just a gawd awful performance at home against a weaker appoinent missing one of their key stars.

    9. Nuss said

      I hate you Derrick Low.

    10. Longball said

      ok, wake up call #3 for the cougs, sooner or later they need to stop hitting the snooze button.

    11. Duane said

      The guy is 0-7 from behind the arc for the game and he’s the one taking the big shot?

      Granted, I’m not fortunate enough to be able to listen to the game from here, but no Weaver, Harmeling or Rochestie?

      That, right there is what’s going to kill this team: the lack of a go-to guy. Because it’s certainly not Derrick Lowe. You never know which Lowe you’re gonna get.

    12. Nuss said

      Low actually got two shots on the final possession, if that makes you feel any better.

    13. Nuss said

      Maybe this will make you feel better: The Cougs were 11 of 17 from the free throw line, so if they had just hit a couple more …

      Nope, didn’t make me feel better, either. Never mind.

    14. Longball said

      I honestly harbor no more illusions that this team is going to compete for the Pac-10 title. It is unbelievably disheartening to hear all week about how we are going to stiffen our D, and we are going to get some home cookin, and then come out and have a performance like that. That was our 3rd easiest game on the Pac-10 schedule. Being a tough road team doesnt mean crap if you come home to get swept and at this point i cant imagine us beating Sanford. Our detractors have all the evidence they need now that we have been exposed, and i cant argue with them. We have.

      At what point (like say with a minute left and you are behind), do you admit that Derek Low is NOT going to make anything and put someone in the game who is? He just isnt anywhere near that valuable on the defensive end to leave in the game at the point. Well we stole one at ASU, what goes round comes round.

    15. Nuss said

      Normally at this point, I’d caution against overreacting, but I think you’re actually spot on, Longball. This was a bad loss, and it’s not like it was a fluke. This team has been struggling for some time, especially on the defensive end.

    16. james said

      Wow, you just figured out Ryan Anderson was going to bust ya’ll ass? Lol I could’ve told you that months ago..Hey here’s a suggestion, start doing your homework on teams and players so you will know and understand matchups, trends, and styles. No matter how hard he works, how gutty he is, how many drills he does, Derek Low will have slow, Chuck Nevitt like feet.

    17. Nuss said


      (Anderson) probably holds the key, more than anyone, as to whether this game is close. If he goes off, watch out. The challenge for Robbie Cowgill, Daven Harmeling and Caleb Forrest will be to make him one-dimensional by enticing him into contested 3s. They’ve got their hands full.

      I didn’t just figure it out, I was worried about Anderson long before the game started. I think he’s one of the best players in the country and probably headed for the NBA next year. Not sure where your comment came from, but it might be better if you read what we write, since we also talked about the styles and what the Cougs would need to do to neutralize Cal.

      And Derrick (note the spelling) Low’s feet were not the issue last night. He might not have the feet to play in the NBA, but that doesn’t really matter right now. He’s proven he can get to the rim in the Pac-10, and he’s got to consistently do that. This team also needs him to hit some outside shots. He went 0-for-9 from 3 last night. He hits two of those, it’s a win. As he goes, it goes. That’s just a fact.

    18. Longball said

      Wow, Jame’s comment started with “y’alls ass” and actualy managed to get dumber from there. Impressive.

      So i am perplexed at this point with Low. We moved him away from the point to take advantage of his scoring ability and last season he began to blossom in that role. Then over the off season he continued to (supposedly) develop even more with his now legendary (or is it mythical?) performance in the Pan Am Games. Now maybe the Peruvian squad is just not as good defensively as even the worst Pac-10 teams, but it seems to me Low’s offensive game is completey one dimensional this year. Basically, if the 3 ball isnt falling for him, there is no reason to have him on the court. Last year he created a lot more offense off the dribble and moving without the ball, drawing fouls and getting to the rim. Its almost as if, once Rochestie started showing his knack for dribble penetration and making those nifty floaters in the paint, Low just backed off and left that to him. I guess i am wondering if people are taking other aspects of Low’s offensive game away with matchups and schemes, or is he being less agressive? Also, there is lots of talk about what this team is missing (Ivory Clark and more athletacism are popular picks) but what i really wish we had was a true fire eating leader, think Bennie Seltzer. I just dont see it out there. Weaver leads by example, of course, but we have no true floor general. It may be time for Tony to lace em up again and get out there. Does he have any eligibility left?

    19. james said

      Thank you for the grammatical corrections Hemmingway, you Apple-cuppers sure are the intellectual types. You guys act as if Ryan Anderson’s performance was some sort of suprise, as if your team has a single bum that can match up with the kid. That’s were my comment came from Ernest. And actually Longball, your attempt at showing some knowledge about the game is feeble at best. Now you are suggesting that a performance against Bolivia or Peru, somehow was a barameter of Derek(note the spelling) Low’s improvement as a ballplayer. The only barometer of a guy like Low’s improvement, is against quicker, faster, more athletic, and bigger guards. Not some Peruvian. Low’s feet are the root of all evil for Wazzu. He is a tremendous defensive liability, no matter how much credit you try and give him for scrappiness. His inability to move his feet affect every aspect of the game for the Cougs; offensively, defensively, transition O AND D, helps and rotations, bricks and saves(sorry that basketball jargon, not blooger rhetoric..I wouldn’t expect you to understand). It has nothing to do with a “matchup” or “scheme”. Low isn’t very good. Period. In today’s college game, where scouting and preparation arejust as important as practice time, teams have scouted Low and have made hi the liability on that team. You talk about Ivory Clark like he was the missing piece that got youto the Final Four, give me a break! It ain’t about no Ivory Clark, Issac Fontaine, Mark Hendrickson, or Tony Harris(God rest his soul), Wazzu is just flat out nasty. No matter how much limited success your program may acheive, it’s always fool’s gold. Until you get a guards that can matchup with real guards in the conference and the nation, you will always be marginal. Until you get some big men that are not only big, slothly, and sloppy but coordinated, athletic and smart, you will always struggle. Round of 32 is a term you guys should get used to, unless Bennett starts paying players. There is really nothing to be perplexed about. You are still Wazzu.

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