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Q & A with Tightwad Hill

Tomorrow afternoon SC takes on Cal in Berkley. Both teams are coming off some pretty tough losses so I would expect some frustrations to be taken out in this game. The great Cal Blog Tightwad Hill was gracious enough to have a little Q & A with us to discuss tomorrows game. A big thank you to USCLink for coming up with the questions and working on some answers for their questions.

1.  How does Cal expect to contain all of 'SC's weapons?  Pruitt has come into his form, Nick Young was recently named Pac-10 Player of the week, and Taj Gibson is expected to contend for Pac-10 freshman of the year honors.  What will Cal do to deny the Trojans good looks at the basket?

Tightwad Hill: Under Ben Braun, Cal has done one thing consistently well: it has played fundamentally sound defense.  This year has been a challenge, however, because injuries to post men DeVon Hardin and Jordan Wilkes have compromised the Bears inside.  The Bears will dress eight scholarship players for Saturday's game, and they must stay out of foul trouble to be effective.  As a result, Cal can be a little conservative on defense, slow to get out on shooters for fear of allowing dribble penetration or easy entry passes to the post.  The Bears prefer to play good post defense and allow teams to
shoot themselves out of possessions from the perimeter.  The problem here is that SC has been very effective from three.  Still, Cal would probably rather force the Trojans to hit their threes than allow Taj Gibson loose in the paint.

Also, while Cal doesn't press much, I wouldn't be surprised to see our guards extend pressure a bit more than usual to try to turn USC over.

2.  This game will be immediately following a tough game against a very good Bruin team whose only loss of the season is at Oregon.  Has the team shown a history of letdowns after big games this season?  What sort of impact will that game have on Cal's performance against the Trojans?

Tightwad Hill: We haven't had any games as "big" as UCLA this year, so it's difficult to judge.  Of our Thursday contests, we lost at Arizona but rebounded to beat ASU in overtime; we lost to Wazzu at home but rebounded to beat UW in overtime; and we beat OSU on the road and then gave Oregon a good run before losing by eight. Cal's upset win at Stanford was a one-off on a Wednesday, and the team had eight days off afterwards.

I expect the Bears to come into Saturday's game with something to prove - especially Ubaka, who had the worst game of his Cal career Thursday night against UCLA.  The Bears need this game to restore their confidence and keep their very long shot NCAA hopes alive.

3.  Leading scorer and freshman Ryan Anderson has contributed both from inside and outside the arc, shooting 49% and 39% respectively.  How will his presence help the Bears put points on the board, and what does Cal expect to do to get a consistent offense against 'SC's #1 conference defense?

Tightwad Hill: Anderson is a classic inside-outside threat who has shown very good body control and footwork in the paint, and a nice stroke from three.  He's very tough to defend - the best bet is to test him on the other end with a back-to-the-basket post man who can get him in foul trouble.

As for the offense, it's not been Cal's strong suit, as 46 points against UCLA suggests.  The Bears have struggled to generate a consistent flow out of their flex offensive sets.  Ayinde Ubaka initiates the offense; he's a combo guard who is usually a good scorer.  Anderson is the primary target and he will run the baseline and peel off of screens looking for the pass and shoot.  Increasingly, Theo Robertson is a force in Cal's halfcourt - he's a strong if undersized four who is pretty good on dribble drive and has some range on his jumper.  Omar Wilkes will occasionally contribute - he's got good range on his jumper and is primarily a perimeter threat.

Cal is very good at taking care of the basketball - even in the UCLA fiasco, they only turned it over nine times.  So that's a strength - the Bears usually wind up getting at least one shot out of their possessions.  Cal must rebound better than they did against UCLA to generate putbacks and get Trojans like Gibson into foul trouble.

4.  Last year, Cal had the Trojans number, winning all 3 contests between the teams, including a 15 point blowout in the Pac-10 tourney.  What players return from that team, and how have their contributions compared to last season?

Tightwad Hill: Ubaka is the same guy you remember - he has contributed scoring (14.0 ppg) and leadership (Thursday night excepted).  The Bears also return Wilkes, who's playing up to expectations (10.2 ppg); Robertson - who's really catching fire (8.5 ppg but that counts a very slow start - he had 17 against the Bruins and 19 against the Ducks); and bench contributors like Eric Vierneisel, another perimeter threat.  Vierneisel is out, unfortunately, for 1-3 weeks.  That's about it, except for walk-on Alex Pribble, who played 14
minutes against UCLA.  The other three scholarship players are true
freshmen, including starting wing Patrick Christopher.  Christopher is very athletic but has struggled to get into the flow on offense, averaging only 4.2 ppg in 18+ minutes.

5.  Cal gets a decent amount of time from its bench, with 8 players averaging over 14 minutes a game.  How well does the bench hold the fort when the starters are taking a break, and how do you expect them to compete with 'SC's bench, including Wilkinson, Emjai, Hackett, and Lewis?

Tightwad Hill: The Bears don't actually have much of a bench with Vierneisel's injury - you'll see Pribble, speedy freshman PG Jerome Randle and freshman C Taylor Harrison.  That's pretty much it.  Pribble is a classic walk-on - tough, plays aggressive defense but is limited on the other end.  Randle is small and super quick, and can get into a nice rhythm shooting from three, but he is prone to turnovers.  Harrison is a banger who doesn't have a polished offensive game yet.  Defensively they're OK, with the exception of Randle, who can be exploited by SC's big guards.

Against UCLA in the first half, Anderson sat the bench with two fouls for what seemed like an eternity (more like eight minutes) and Harrison did an OK job in his place.  Pribble also played a lot in the first half, drawing a charge and contributing his usual hustle defense.  The Bears were only down four after twenty minutes, so this crew can play well in spurts.

Thanks Guys! Good luck tomorrow, we hope for a safe game.