Game Preview: Arizona @ CAL

Warning: Today’s game against CAL will have enough history, drama, anticipation and anxiety that drinking super-caffeinated beverage that you are currently holding to your lips must be considered dangerous to your health. The Surgeon General has issued no such warnings, but trust me when I tell you that combining the two will be hazardous to your health. Side effects may include:

  • Mental breakdowns
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Heart attacks
  • The uncontrollable urge to jump out of your over-used recliner every time Arizona makes a basket in the final five minutes causing panic and fear for others within hearing distance.
     

Entering conference play the Wildcats have shown tremendous growth and player development during their OOC (out of conference) games. We’ve seen from nauseating plays to marvelous performances, and heart-breaking losses to spectacular victories. More importantly we’ve seen the transformation of Kyle Fogg and Jamelle Horne into impact players. But there is still a laundry list of unanswered questions and hurdles that still loom in the path of the ‘Cats. The only thing that is certain about Arizona’s Conference Opener against CAL is that they will have their first opportunity to provide answers to the questions.

The first question that Arizona needs an answer to is can they win on the road? In an uncharacteristic OOC schedule the Wildcats found themselves at on the road for only two of their nine games. With few opportunities to win on the road, and both occasions producing a loss, the ‘Cats have already been dubbed a team that can’t win on the road.

I don’t believe this is the case. Both losses came against more experienced teams in Texas A&M and UNLV. The fact that Arizona jumped out to an early lead and led until the final 30 seconds of the game is an indication that they weren’t playing scared, but fell victim to a more experienced squad on the road. During the second road trip to UNLV the found themselves pitted up against the toughest defensive team they’ve faced this year – and the Rebels just happened to be having their break out game this year. Neither of those situations are easy ways to pick up a road win. Because of that, I believe that the lack of a road win for this squad has more to do with limited opportunity and not capability.

Despite the fact that Arizona has dominated this conference match-up recently, with a 16-2 record since 2001, winning at Haas Pavilion will not be an easy task. While it is important to note that both of the losses came on the road at Haas Pavilion and CAL is 8-0 at home this season, there are bigger obstacles and facets to this game that trouble me. That leads me to the next question that Arizona has to find an answer for. Can Arizona’s defense step up and shut down  the prolific 3-point shooting of the Gold Bears?

For the season as a whole, Arizona has defended the perimeter very well by limiting opponents to 33.5% from beyond the arc. But in their three losses Arizona has allowed average 3-point shooting teams to hit marks of 43.3% (UAB), 45% (TxA&M), and 45.2% (UNLV). Not a single team averages above 35% on the season from beyond the arc. Defending the perimeter against CAL is a much more daunting task. The Golden Bears lead the nation in three-point percentage with an amazing 50.6% from beyond the arc. Arizona is going to have to step out on Jerome Randle (32-57), Theo Robertson (24-39), and Patrick Christopher (13-36).

My third question I mentioned in my entry “Shooting Problems & Muscle Strains.” This is a three-part question. First, can Chase Budinger break out of his recent shooting funk, or will he return to his previously lethargic shooting performances from his freshman and sophomore years? Secondly, will Jordan Hill’s leg be healed enough for him to suit up? If you haven’t realized how important Hill’s floor presence is to this team, suffice it to say he is the key that unlocks the offense and deadbolts the defense. Finally, if either of the questions are answered “no” then can the rest of the ‘Cats step up enough to get the win? Recently, the ‘Cats have seen amazing decision making by Nic Wise whose play has been drastically better since the loss at UNLV. More importantly, we’ve seen Jamelle Horne and Kyle Fogg blossom into impact players for this team. If Budinger or Hill are incapable of overcoming their problems, all three of these players will need to step up in a big way.

A Few Twists:

As I stated before, CAL is the best three-point shooting team in the nation. What I didn’t mention is that Arizona is the second-best three-point shooting team that drops them in at a clip of 43.5 percent. If that doesn’t heighten the importance for both teams perimeter defense, perhaps this will: On the season CAL has been limiting opponents to 32.1% from beyond  the arc, but in their two losses they allowed Florida State to shoot 41% and Missouri to shoot 46.2%.

The return of Mike Montgomery on the opposing bench is what has my interest piqued the most. Remember, the last time Arizona faced a Montgomery-led team was February 7, 2004. The #12 Wildcats traveled to Maples Pavilion in to face the second-ranked Cardinal. My narration can’t do justice to this so click play on the video below and you’ll see one heck of an ending.

Not only do I find it interesting that the last time Arizona faced off against Montgomery was on the road in the Bay Area against an evenly matched opponent, but I’m anticipating this to be the first thriller of many thrillers to come in this series.

Breaking Down CAL:

Team MVP: Jerome Randle – 19.5 ppg, 4.8 apg, 56% 3-pt
Other CAL features:
Theo Robertson 12.1 ppg, 61.5% 3-pt shooter
Patrick Christopher 14.0 ppg, 36.1 3-pt shooter
Jamal Boykin 9.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg
Everyone else: 17.6 ppg, 14.5 rpg

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4 Responses to “Game Preview: Arizona @ CAL”


  1. 1 Karan January 2, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Great Analysis!

    Sounds like this will boil down to – which team shoots the 3ball better.

    For some reason I feel Chase plays and shoots better in road games. Would love to see how his stats stack up in home vs. away games.

    Don’t think Cal has the inside defense to keep Hill in check. Look for him to have a 25-12 night.

    Prediction: AZ gets a W with 75-71

    (Naterb – any way you can allow someone to post comment without having to provide e-mail ID?)

  2. 2 naterb January 2, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Karan – Got that changed to where you no longer have to provide an e-mail address. I must have neglected to uncheck that box in the settings. It’s all taken care of now though. Thanks for your comment.

    CAL doesn’t have the talent to keep up with Hill inside, but they have the size to. They have a pair of PF in Jamal Boykin and Harper Kamp. At 6’8″ both are undersized against Hill but because they’re built like bricks they’ll see some possessions against him.

    Montgomery also has three players over 6’10” to throw and Hill to give a different defensive look. Jordan Wilkes (7’0″) will be on Hill frequently tonight.

    But as you said, CAL doesn’t have the talent to match-up with Hill and keep him in check all night long. But Montgomery will do his best to keep him on his heels.

  3. 3 Andy January 2, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Nice blog Nate.
    You live in SoCal right?
    You goin’ to any of the games this 1st week??
    I replied with comments on the AZstarnet.
    Later Nater

  4. 4 Andrew Rosenblum January 2, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    Nice blog.. I like the change from CBSSPORTSLINE.
    Great Analysis…. go CATS!


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