To get a Cal point of view on Saturday's match-up against the Golden Bears in Berkeley we sat down with California Golden Blogs for a quick Q&A. You can check out Parker's answers to their questions here.
A lot has changed since we previewed the last CU-Cal game on January 25th. At that point, you guys were pretty pessimistic about Cal's tournament chances. Now coming into Saturday's game on a six-game winning streak with triumphs over Arizona, Oregon and UCLA the Golden Bears look to be a near lock to be playing in March. Tell us about where things stand for this Bears team heading into these last two games of the regular season.
LEastCoastBears: With two games to go in the regular season, the Bears actually have a decent shot at winning the Pac-12 regular season title. I sure didn't think this was the case about a month ago, when the turnaround happened. Possibly more importantly (though I rank being able to put up another banner for the conference regular season championship to be pretty important), if the Bears can manage to finish the regular season with two wins (thanks to the stellar Colorado RPI) and maybe a couple more in the Pac-12 tournament, maybe we can avoid that dreadful "first round" game that we had to play last year.
Norcalnick: Interestingly, the first Cal/Colorado game might have been the season nadir for the Bears. Colorado just completely took apart Cal's defense, and the final score didn't really reflect how thoroughly the Buffs dominated. Cal was rudderless, 3-4 in conference, and the season looked over.
I still can't believe that this team is a legit contender for the conference title. They looked like the 8th best team in the Pac-12 midway through, and they are in their current position despite a schedule that has generally been more challenging than their direct rivals.
What have been the keys to the turnaround and win streak?
LEastCoastBears: More consistent defensive effort and better ball handling are the keys to Cal's turnaround. Possibly due to the lack of healthy bodies to have good practices, it took awhile before the Bears look comfortable defensively this year. A switch (at times) to a zone defense was credited as the catalyst in the first Oregon and then Arizona wins. More importantly, the Bears were able to give the opponents a different look defensively. The return of senior Brandon Smith from concussion as well as the improvement of freshman Tyron Wallace had also allowed Justin Cobbs to play off the ball some.
Perhaps the biggest key recently has been the sense of belief and confidence that we can win every game. Without this, the Bears probably would not have pulled off the Oregon road sweep (a two point near-buzzer beater win follow by another one point win) last week.
Norcalnick: I don't know if that Colorado beat down inspired the team, but from that point forward Cal has been red hot, mostly on the back of a defense that has transformed itself into one of the best in the Pac-12. Every player has stepped up defensively, but I think the biggest improvements have come from David Kravish and Richard Solomon, who have done a much better job altering shots in the paint and pulling down defensive rebounds.
Who has been the unsung hero for this team over the second half of the season?
LEastCoastBears: While Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs has grabbed most of the attention, and rightful so, for Cal's turnaround, I would say that forwards Richard Solomon and David Kravish are the unsung heroes. The two of them are instrumental to the Bears' defensive effort, which clearly improved during the current run. They have also started to convert those point blank looks that they were frustratingly missing earlier in the year. Their better conversion right by the basket had opened up more room for our wings to operate and vice versa.
Norcalnick: Gotta agree with LCB. Like I said above, Kravish and Solomon took major steps forward defensively, and they have been much more active in general on both ends. Kravish in particular has become an efficient scorer and Solomon has improved his shooting while still running the floor really well for a big man.
Last time these teams met, Askia Booker and Xavier Johnson joined Spencer Dinwiddie and Andre Roberson in leading the Buffs to a ten point win in Boulder. How will Cal try and defend the Buffs this time?
LEastCoastBearse: The Bears was able to get Andre Roberson into quick foul trouble last time, but the Buffs jumped out to a big first half lead without Roberson. The Buffs did shoot 59.6% in that game, which I doubt they can replicate easily. If the Bears can make some baskets, then this naturally cut down on the number of fast break opportunities allowed, not to mention more time for the defense to be set.
Norcalnick: Would it be facetious of me to say that Cal's plan to do better is to play defense, period? That game was Colorado's 2nd most efficient offensive performance in Pac-12 play, and one can't help but assume that the Bears couldn't play much worse.
Cal will need to prevent penetration by CU's guards without getting out of position against Roberson and allowing him to go nuts on the offensive glass. I'm not super confident about it, but it can't possible go worse than it did in Boulder, can it?
It looks as if Josh Scott should play on Saturday for the Buffs after missing the last few games. How will Cal take advantage of his absence if he is not able to give it a go?
LEastCoastBears: Without Scott, the Buffs have been starting 3 guards (with Chen in for Scott) to go with 2 forwards which is the usual Cal lineup as well. Like most Pac-12 teams this year, the Bears don't have much depth, particularly at the forward position. Being able to stay out of foul trouble from the Bears frontcourt would be nice.
Norcalnick: I honestly wouldn't expect Cal's offensive game plan to change much no matter Scott's status prior to the game. Cal is hardly a post-focused offense, and of late the offensive has become even more guard oriented via the weave atop the key. Scott's status will have a bigger impact when CU is on offense, because it means that it will be much harder for Cal's bigs to give Roberson extra attention on the glass.
What does Cal need to do to win this game?
LEastCoastBears: Bears have to continue to execute offensively. Early in the conference season, the Bears have a few games where they just could not score for a long stretches of time. This past week in Oregon, the Bears were able to find some scoring sources outside of a contained Allen Crabbe. Bears would need to execute their offense against the tough Colorado defense to match the offensive fire power of Dinwiddie and co.
Norcalnick: Make shots. Specifically, Crabbe and Cobbs need to hit their shots when they get open. Prevent Xavier Johnson from getting into the paint whenever he wants. Hope that CU doesn't go supernova from 3 like they did in Boulder.
What does Colorado need to do to beat Cal?
LEastCoastBears: Colorado needs to play like they are not on the road (although I hope Haas would be rocking on Saturday). The Buffs definitely has the athleticism defensively to give the Bears fits. Colorado has beat the Bears 4 times in 5 meetings in the last 3 years, including all 3 games at Boulder (2011 NIT and the two home game these past two year) and at the neutral site for the Pac-12 tournament, but the Bears won the one home game last year pretty handily.
Norcalnick: Pressure Crabbe and Cobbs. Disrupt them before they get into a flow on offense. Cobbs can be turnover prone, particularly when he faces a ton of guard pressure.
Hope that Roberson dominates the boards - he's very much capable - and that Scott looks like his old self as Cal tries to focus attention on his teammate in the front court.
LEastCoastBears: I am pretty scared of the Buffs in this game, but given the spottier Colorado road record (although many of those road losses were quite close), including the Furd game on Wednesday, and how the Bears are in a hot streak (to have the intangible to make some insane shots fuel by the home crowd), my prediction is Cal 72 - Colorado 64.
Norcalnick: Cal 58, Colorado 56.