Two weeks after losing the second game of the season to UCLA, Arizona has found its way back into first place in the Pac-12 conference. The Wildcats defeated the Stanford Cardinal on Wednesday night and conference leader Oregon fell to Colorado, giving Arizona sole possession of first place. It also reestablished the Wildcats as the frontrunners to win the conference.
The Wildcats have found themselves in this position due to tremendous play up to this point in the season. Arizona has lost just two games on the year, both coming in conference play, to Oregon and UCLA. A win over Cal would put it in great position before heading to Colorado next week.
California is coming into the game having a let down game at Arizona State after upsetting the Ducks in Berkeley. The Golden Bears swept the home stand last weekend, coming up with victories over both Oregon and Oregon State by a combined seven points. They followed up the performances with a poor showing in Tempe on Thursday night, losing to the Sun Devils 66-62.
Former Stanford Head Coach Mike Montgomery flipped to rival California after a short stint in the NBA and is now in his fifth season with the Golden Bears. During that time, he has visited the NCAA tournament three times and won the Pac-12 once. Montgomery has also won 101 games during that span, while losing 56.
One of the most dangerous players for the Golden Bears is Allen Crabbe. Playing 36 minutes a night, the junior is the motor that drives Cal. He is scoring just under twenty points a night and has played at his best in California’s wins.
Crabbe is also one of the better shooters on the team, hitting 47-percent from the field and 84-percent from the free throw line.
Joining Crabbe in the backcourt is fellow junior Justin Cobbs. The point guard leads the Golden Bears with 94 assists on the season. Cobbs isn’t just passing the all when he’s on the court either, as the guard is also averaging fifteen points a game.
California runs with three guards in the starting lineup with Tyrone Wallace joining the other two guards in the starting rotation. Just a freshman, Wallace has played in every game this year. He is scoring 7.3 points and grabbing 4.8 rebounds a game. The 6-foot-4 guard can also run the point when Cobbs is out of the game as shown by his 57 assists on the year, with just 39 turnovers.
Cal starts two big men with eerily similar numbers. Big men David Kravish and Richard Solomon are both scoring eight points each time out. In addition, they are both rebounding 6.7 balls per night. The main difference between the two on the stat sheet is that Kravish is the better shooter.
The only other player on the California bench that has played in every game is Robert Thurman. The senior forward has started two of the twenty-two games the Golden Bears and plays eighteen minutes a night. Thurman is moderately productive, scoring 5.2 points and grabbing 3.8 rebounds per game. He also has a downside as the senior has struggled with turnovers at times.
Brandon Smith is another Golden Bear that will come off the bench. The 6-foot senior has been a role player for his entire career at Cal. Smith only scores three points a game. However, he is a suitable backup at the point guard position. The guard makes good decisions and has gone off for big games in the past.
With first place in the Pac-12 on the line, Arizona will have something to play for in every game from this point forward. California is greatly coached by Montgomery, but may not have the horses to run with the Wildcats. Even in that case, they will have to come out strong and avoid starting slow in order to end the home stand with a victory over the Golden Bears.