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Preview and Open Thread: California at Oregon

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California Golden Bears (14-13, 7-8 Pac-10) at Oregon Ducks (14-12, 7-7 Pac-10)

6:00 PT, Matthew Knight Arena

TV:  CSN Northwest, CSN California

The Mighty Golden Bear.  Eager to prove himself, the young Oski dared venture to the most dangerous place in the forest.  Many of his woodland friends had tried this adventure in the past.  The majestic Cougar.  The industrious Beaver.  The cunning Husky.  None were ever seen again.  The Bruin was the only creature to live to tell the tale, barely holding onto life and limb in an adventure that left him wanting no more. 

But the line between bravery and foolishness is a small one, and our young Oski has just crossed it.  And as he marched off to his adventure, his woodland friends knew his destiny was set.  And before long, he was out of sight.  And never would he return.  Just another victim.  DEEP IN THE WOODS.

California and Oregon are two teams heading in opposite directions since their last meeting in Berkeley a month ago.  California is going nowhere fast, losing four of five until an overtime win against UCLA gave Bear fans any hope of saving their season.  Oregon, meanwhile, has won four of five, sitting at an improbable fourth place in the conference, with fans talking about postseason basketball in Eugene.  This is a big game for both teams:  the winner in great shape not only to finish in the top six, therefore avoiding a first round game in the Pac-10 Tournament, but also having a great shot at a 4-5 seed, thus avoiding the big three of Arizona, UCLA, and Washington in the first round.  With the only shot at the NCAAs being a Pac-10 Tournament win for either team, those are both huge advantages that are a must to be able to pull that off.

The first game between these teams was a close affair, with Oregon falling down by 17 early in the game.  Oregon would fight back, but couldn't get into a consistent rhythm in a game marred by tight officiating, resulting in 41 Bear free throws (to Oregon's 26).  Foul trouble took Catron out of the game for large stretches, and Jay-R Strowbridge could never get his stroke going (1-6 on threes), and Cal was able to hold on for the eight point win.  Cal took advantage of a big front line (18 for Mark Sanders-Frison and 13 for Harper Kamp) and timely three point shooting (5-11 combined for Allen Crabbe and Jorge Guttierez) to put Oregon away.

Cal is a very average team.  Their record (14-13) indicated that.  So does their EFG% (49.6, national average 49.1). Their turnover stats are close to average. Most of their offensive stats are near the average.  Most of their defensive stats are slightly worse.  However they do two things very well.  They are tenth in the nation in free throw attempts per field goal attempt, meaning they get to the line a ton (we saw that last game).  They are also very good at not giving up offensive rebounds.

We know what Oregon does well, and thats play defense (53rd in the nation in opponents EFG%).  Now that they've seemingly learned how to shoot, that effort is translating into wins.

There is no secret to beating Cal.  They won't get out to a 17 point lead early in our house.  But in that last game, they had two posts AND two guards with double digit scoring games.  The Bears are not a deep team; shut down just one of those units and the game is won.

KEYS TO THE GAME:

Rebound, rebound, rebound:  Cal had fifteen offensive rebounds the last meeting.  That translates into easy points for their front line.  Catron and Nared have to do the dirty work down low and hit the boards hard.

Hit the three:  Oregon hit just 30% from three in the first meeting.  Singler was 0-6 from out there.  Strowbridge was 1-6.  Both of them have to be much better.

Control Jorge:  Though he only shot 2-11 from the field in the first meeting, Jorge Guttierez got to the line 14 times, and had 17 points and five assists.  He's the heart and soul of the team.  Stop him.

Oregon has a great shot at this game at home.  Pomeroy picks Oregon to win 65% of the time.  A win here is a big step towards our postseason dream.