The Cal men’s basketball team’s habit of starting slow finally caught up to it when the team dropped its first Pac-12 match to USC on Wednesday. The Bears (14-5, 5-1 Pac-12) entered that contest undefeated in conference play and were expected to roll through their weak opponent. Instead, they came out slow and never found their rhythm, and the Trojans sailed to victory.
If Cal comes out with that same kind of effort when the team takes on UCLA (15-4, 4-2) at 5 p.m. Sunday, the game could quickly turn into a blowout.
Unlike USC, the Bruins are one of the strongest teams in the Pac-12. While the Bears struggled against the Trojans, UCLA squashed that same squad by 34 points earlier in January. The Bruins also took top-ranked Arizona down to the wire in their next game.
UCLA features an offense that scores 84.4 points per contest, placing it just outside the top 10 in the country. Seeing as the Bears are coming off their worst defensive effort of the season, it’s possible Pauley Pavilion will become a disaster zone when the Bears come to town. UCLA has already eclipsed 90 points in seven games so far.
That potent offense is lead by Jordan Adams, a sophomore guard who is quick on his feet and has a nose for finding the basket. Though his outside shooting is far from elite, his ability to score close to the rim is among the best in the Pac-12. The 6-foot-5 product of Atlanta also averages 3.2 steals per contest on a defense that has allowed more than 80 points just once all season.
Equally important to UCLA’s offensive dominance has been 6-foot-9 sophomore Kyle Anderson. Despite being listed as forward, Anderson plays more like a point guard, orchestrating the Bruin offense and averaging 6.6 assists per game.
“He can rebound, he can pass, he’s big enough to pass over the top, he can score,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery. “He really makes a lot of things work for them.”
In order to slow down the Bruin attack, the Bears will need a much better effort than the one they gave against USC: They allowed the Trojans to connect on 51.9 percent of their shots. Cal was also outrebounded in that game, 37-33.
As if the UCLA tilt weren’t already challenging enough, the game features one more wrinkle for the Bears to deal with. After the Bears played USC on Wednesday, the team flew back to Berkeley that night to avoid missing Thursday and Friday classes. The team will then travel back to take on UCLA on Sunday, a routine the Bears are not very familiar with.
“It’s odd,” Montgomery said. “I’ve thought about that a little bit. I’m just not sure how it will affect things long-term.”
The Bears will still have two days to prepare for the Bruins, as they will take Thursday off. Regardless of the preparation, though, this game will come down to the Bears’ ability to come out with the intensity and effort they have lacked in their last few games and whether they can slow down the Bruins’ offense.
“You have to do the same things: You have to transition, you have to block off, you have to make shots,” Montgomery said. “I don’t see a whole lot of difference in terms of preparation.”