1. What are the teams’ greatest strengths?
Justice delos Santos: After struggling to consistently play 40 minutes of basketball for the entire season — Cal, like clockwork, would play one great half of basketball and counter it with an equally bad half of basketball — the team is finally figuring out what it takes to play a full ball game. Despite Cal’s loss to Stanford last Sunday, the team finally showed that it has the ability to play two high-energy halves of basketball. Junior Don Coleman and senior Nick Hamilton spearheaded that movement and were fun to watch off the bench, playing a key part in the Bears forcing three straight turnovers on the defensive end.
Cody Tyo: The 2-3 zone, junior forward Noah Dickerson and playing with emotion are three very connected strengths for the Huskies. When Washington is clicking, the zone’s length creates turnovers on defense, allowing the UW guards to find Dickerson in the paint to fuel the offense. If the Huskies manage to gain momentum and take the crowd out of the game, they’re tough to beat on the road.
2. What are the teams’ greatest weaknesses?
JD: Consistent defense outside of the paint has been an area in which Cal has struggled. Seniors Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh have consistently provided the Bears with great rim protection, but outside the paint, Cal is incredibly vulnerable. By defensive box plus/minus, freshman Darius McNeill and Coleman are the two worst defenders in the Pac-12. Freshman Juhwan Harris-Dyson provides the Bears with good defense on the perimeter, but he’s only one person. If Washington wants to run the “whoever” offense on McNeill and Coleman, especially with a dynamic guard in freshman Jaylen Nowell, the option is very much there.
CT: Washington’s greatest enemy is often Washington itself. Offensively, the Huskies are prone to long scoring droughts when they struggle to get out in transition. UW’s shot selection when playing out of its half court offense noticeably worsens, and tends to be contagious. Rebounding on the defensive end is historically difficult out of a zone. Washington’s zone is no different, and its guards are tasked with fighting for rebounds to get stops.
3. What’s the glass-half-full look on your team’s future?
Sophie Goethals: It’s undeniable that the Bears have had a rough season — only two wins in conference play is evidence enough of that. But what is looking good is future seasons for this Cal team. With three freshman regularly making it into the starting lineup, there’s a lot to look forward to as they grow both individually and collectively. Justice Sueing, McNeill and Harris-Dyson have all shown huge promise throughout the season, and they have actually been the main crux of the Bears’ offense during Pac-12 play. If there’s a glass-half-full look at Cal, it has to do with the next few years.
CT: This season was supposed to be a rebuilding project in Seattle. Mike Hopkins hit the reset button on a struggling Washington program picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12. Now, with a shot at making the NCAA tournament, expectations have skyrocketed. A glass-half-full perspective has UW competing with the upper tier of the conference for the next several years, challenging perennial powers such as Arizona and UCLA for Pac-12 titles. The Huskies are able to maintain their image as an NBA talent factory, while also playing meaningful games in late March.
4. What’s the glass-half-empty look?
SG: That being said, the rest of this season is pretty much a throwaway. There are very few games left for Cal to prove that it can bring itself out of the depths of the Pac-12 in 2018. Also, after this season, the Bears will be losing two of its best big men — Okoroh and Lee. That leaves little in the way of down low production for Cal and could leave them susceptible to larger and more aggressive opponents. The Bears will especially feel this sting in the rebounding department, where Okoroh and Lee have been particularly effective.
CT: The Pac-12 is an absolute mess this season. The conference’s top team, Arizona, is playing at a lower level than it has in recent years, and Washington has been able to steal a few big wins. If the glass is half empty, UW’s strong record fails to tell the story of a program that still has a long ways to go before taking the next step. Hopkins will struggle to reel in elite recruits for at least a few more years, preventing the Huskies from truly competing with the Arizonas of the world. In the meantime, at least we have football?
5. What’s your score prediction?
SG: Washington, 70-62. The Bears will likely hang with the Huskies at the beginning of the game, but when it goes down the stretch, Washington will likely break away in a manner that the Bears cannot keep up with. All season, Cal has been notoriously bad at keeping games close down the stretch — in part because they lack a definitive go-to scorer to pull off clutch shots at the end of the game. On the other end, Howell possesses the end-of-game poise to finish off teams, and he will likely provide the push toward the end of the game that will allow the Huskies to overcome the Bears.
CT: Washington: 72; California: 65. Cal has struggled this season and won’t have as much on the line in Saturday’s game as the Huskies. The Golden Bears will stay within striking distance, but Washington’s 2-3 zone will win the day. As it has done all season, UW will find a way to win and stay in the hunt for Madness. (Side prediction: Cal leading scorer Coleman posts 20-plus points, bouncing back from his rough night in Seattle earlier this year.)
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