The key, in my mind, to this game will be Jerome Randle. In the game at HecEd, Randle was lost. Literally. He could not pass, had no idea where his man was on defense, and Coach Montgomery noticed, benching him for long periods of time. He ended the game going 2-9 from the field. It was by far his worst game of the year. If Randle just has an average game Thursday (19.1 pts), things will be very different. Patrick Christopher had a big game that day. 28 pts, 8 boards, 14-18 from the line. He pretty much got the shots he wanted all day. That concerns me. Look, Justin Holiday can’t guard everyone. I think Cal is beginning to figure it out on offense. They are a three man team: Randle, Christopher and Robertson. Over the past couple games, these guys have scored 102 of the 135 points the Bears have scored. Cal is getting their identity in order, which means good things are in store for the crew from Berkeley.
One the other side we have the Huskies. Coming into this game, the Dawgs may have started to figure out who they are: a defensive team. Quite literally, when this team plays in your shorts, brash defense led by Venoy Overton (or Venoying as I like to call him), they are extremely hard to beat. There is no one in the Pac-10 who can hang with them when they are crazy on defense and crashing the boards. The problem, of course, is they don’t bring this defense on the road with them. The two losses in Arizona wereembarrassments. No one contested shots, no one got back, and what happened? Got run by 17 both times. Now, in both those games, Holiday didn’t play, and he is most certainly a difference maker. Just see the game up in Seattle against those same teams. Horne and Kuksiks were non-factors, largely due to Holiday playing his Stacy Augmon “Plastic Man” defense defense on them. I expect Holiday to play well Thursday, but it will be interesting to see who Holiday checks. He is taller than Christopher, but Patrick has him by 40 lbs. Robertson is a load at 6-6 230. I expect to see a lot of switching with Pondexter on these two guys. If the Dawgs let the Big Three go off, it will be a very long and frustrating night for the Huskies, so QPon, Holiday, and Venoy must bring their A games. I do think the emergence of Scott Suggs has helped this team gain confidence on the offensive end verses a zone. I have no idea what defense Cal was running in the January game. I watched the who game, and Cal didn’t play a lick of defense. That said, Suggs and Turner have been great zone busters with the ability to hit the corner three ball. Do it with some consistency, and they have a recipe for success on the road in a hostile environment. I know I haven’t said much about Isaiah in this post, and that is by design. If I.T. just lets the game come to him and plays his role, the Huskies are much better off.
In the end, this will be an extremely tough game for the UW to win. I cannot think of a scenario in which Cal comes out flat. I would think right away we must lock down Randle. Thomas is underrated as a defender, so I expect him to check Jerome. After that, the Dawgs better hope the refs let them play, or else they’ll have foul trouble quick, and Cal in the bonus before the 12 minute mark. The Huskies must withstand the initial emotion of the start, and just hang in there and give themselves a chance at the end. I feel very confident the Dawgs will come out playing well, I just think Cal may be slightly better because of the home court.