We've all faced those moments before, and I can't help but feel for Askia Booker, who stared one down last Wednesday. Sidelined with a pair of hip pointers, all he could do was watch as the Utes ripped his punch-less teammates apart. There won't be a repeat this evening, however, as Ski's had enough with the watching.
"I'm still playing through some injuries and pain, but I don't really care now. My team needs me. They need me to perform and they need me on the court, so that's what I'm going to do."Whatever you say about Ski, the kid knows the tune, and has the will of a warrior. He's going to fight through the pain to try and give CU a chance at staying afloat. I'm not expecting a lot from Ski, remembering what his jumper looked like at Pauley two weeks ago, but just his presence on the floor will change the way the Buffs are defended. If that even opens up one extra opportunity for a teammate, then it's worth it.
It's an important moment, because, as Xavier Johnson pointed out today, it's the first time in a long-ass while that everyone on the team practiced together. For all the crap handed out to the squad this year for not having their heads on straight, they've been dealing with a lot of absences, which has contributed to the unique timbre of the season. Certainly, some of that has been self-inflicted, but it's important to acknowledge that the team we expected to see back in November has rarely had a chance to run out onto the court as a whole.
We'll just have to see how it all fits together this evening. The time to turn the season around has passed, but there's still pride at stake. It worked for Cal, as they recently righted their own listing ship, so maybe the Buffs are in store for a revitalizing performance against a team that has often brought the best out of them.
Tip off from the CEC is set for 7pm this evening. Fox Sports 1 has the pictures, 850 KOA the descriptions. Let's get after it, Buffs!
Click below for the preview...
When last we met -
Cal and Colorado last met in the quarterfinals of the 2014 Pac-12 Tournament. In a tilt that came less than a week after a heartbreaking overtime loss to those same Bears in Berkeley, the Buffs won the game that mattered, holding on for a 59-56 victory that sent them to their third conference final four of the Tad Boyle era. I'll admit to having put money on Cal, giving in to the allure of the City of Sin and my damned negativity. Never have I been so happy to tear up a betting slip.
|The Buffs were getting after it yesterday. From: the BDC|
Continuing the trend from the opening round game against the Trojans, Booker lead the team in scoring, dropping 17 on the Bears while shooting over 50% from the field. Unlike the USC game, however, Ski was supported by a solid, aggressive performance from Josh Scott, who chipped in 11/6. Not his best game, but he looked much better than he did in the tournament opener. The Xaviers, Johnson and Talton, also recorded double-digit points, chipping in 10 and 13, respectively. CU needed everything those four could give, as Cal's Justin Cobbs had his own monster game, going for 21/4/5.
|Ski has been having a great tournament. From: the BDC|
The Golden Bears in 2014-15 -
After not really challenging themselves in non-conference play - save for their 2K Classic tour of New York - the Golden Bears suffered a rude awakening come the start of the Pac-12 season. We all probably should've seen it coming, as their Dec 28th loss to Cal St Bakersfield was absolutely inexcusable, but they simply flat-lined once the new year hit. After an opening win against Washington, Cal would lose their next six games, totaling eight of nine. They were getting routed too - the last five came by at least 10 points, including a 35-point loss to ASU in late January.
|Cal took a lot of lumps in January.|
Overall Berkeley really struggles on offense. The biggest problem is that they simply don't get to the line enough, or know what to do once they get there. 320th in free throw attempt to field goal attempt ratio, and 296th in hit rate from the line, they simply don't take enough advantage of the charity stripe. This really hurts their scoring potential since they don't grab many second chances (312th in offensive rebounding), and a lot of what shots they do take are inefficient two-point jumpers (8th nationally, 43.5%) It boils down to an adjusted .98 points per possession, which is criminal. Unsurprisingly, it only got worse in conference play, as production slipped to .95 ppp (10th in the league) against the higher level of competition.
|There've been signs of life in recent weeks, however, especially against UCLA|
Star Players -
Former CU recruiting target Tyrone Wallace is the most versatile athlete on the Cal roster. The junior point guard is a rangy 6-5 talent who can feature in multiple ways. Standing as one of the best rebounders in the conference (22% defensive rate, eight per game), while also being a sly distributor (four assists per), he's a poor man's Kyle Anderson (he's even got that slo-mo swivel on the dribble).
|Wallace is a jump shot from being a Wooden Award candidate.|
Enter: sophomore guard Jabari Bird. The one-time five star recruit out of the Oakland area fought a stress fracture earlier this season which kept him out of the action for almost two months. While he hasn't really blossomed yet, the sophomore Bird offers athletic scoring vibrancy to a team in desperate need of some, and his absence really hurt the offensive punch on the Bay. Jabari's recent return has helped, particularly during the recent four-game winning streak when he averaged 12/6 (scored 16 against UCLA). He's a volume shooter, but don't let that fool you. Now healthy, he makes them a more difficult team to guard.
|Bird's return has them smiling again in Berkeley.|
Up front is veteran mainstay David Kravish. He's been a key component of the Bears' attack each of the last four years (feels like forever), and anchors the post in this, his final collegiate campaign. The 6-10 stick from from Missouri has always struck me as a player who should be more productive than he is. I see flashes, but he has never been one to consistently dictate his will. I think he was more effective working off of Solomon last season, but producing a respectable 11/7 each night is far from shabby.
|Kravish looms large in the paint for Cal.|
Trying to fill the massive shoes left on the sideline by Bay Area legend Mike Montgomery is Cuonzo Martin. I first remember Martin as the shooting sidekick for Glenn Robinson at Purdue in the early 90s. After kicking around the pro ranks for a while, he returned to West Lafayette, IN to cut his teeth under another regional legend - coach Gene Keady. After starting his head coaching career at Missouri State, he was tabbed by Tennessee to serve as the successor to the disgraced Bruce Pearl. Fans resented him from the start, and, after leading the Vols to the Sweet Sixteen last March, he bolted for more welcoming environs. The SEC's loss, the Pac-12's gain.
|Martin is a great 'get' for the Golden Bears.|
(My record on the season: 8-4. Against the spread: 7-5. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -1.08 pts/gm)
Lines as of Wednesday @ 7pm - CU -9
Vegas must not get the Pac-12 Network, otherwise, having seen the Utah game, I don't think they'd have given the Bears this many points. Their January record may not impress, but Cal's recent run has shown that they've sobered up, and are ready to compete again in the Conference of Champions. What looked to be an easy win a few weeks ago, now looks like a fight to the finish.
Even with Bird back, this isn't a great offensive club. Much like CU, they struggle shooting the basketball, and will be very vulnerable if they can't get anything going from outside. Unless someone else gets red hot, expect a low-scoring affair.
While the Bears have been surging, even leap-frogging the Buffs in the standings, they're still far outside of the KenPom top-100. This is important, as Colorado has yet to lose a home game to a team outside of that group. I'm going to bank on that, and pick the Buffs to claim a close, ugly win. Cal covers, though.
CU 59 - Cal 56
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME RIGHT, AND BEAT THE BEARS!