It remains to be seen whether the Cal men’s basketball team (17-8) can win against a Pac-12 opponent outside the walls of Haas.
After earning victories over No. 11 Oregon and Oregon State last week in Berkeley, Cal moved to 16-0 at home — extending its stay on a dwindling list of programs that have yet to be defeated on their home court. But for the Bears, the impressive statline is punctuated by an ugly asterisk. On the road, Cal is a mere 1-6 overall and 0-5 in conference play, leaving the team square in the middle of the Pac-12 with a 7-5 conference record heading into its upcoming matchup with Washington on Thursday night.
“I think it has a lot to do with your fans,” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin regarding the team’s success at Haas Pavilion. “But on the flipside, that has to be growth from our team, to understand that we can’t take the fans at that level with us. We have to make sure we understand how we win games at home.”
But in a conference with few “easy” matchups, transferring the Bears’ success to the road in Seattle doesn’t figure to be a simple task. At 15-10 overall and 7-6 in the Pac-12, Washington sits immediately behind Cal in conference standings and will be hungry to bolster its resume after dropping three straight games, including a narrow one-point defeat to Colorado on the road Saturday. As of Feb. 11, the Huskies occupy a place on Joe Lunardi’s list of the first four snubbed of a spot in the big dance.
“If we’re talking NCAA Tournament, then yes. We’ve got to finish strong right now,” said Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar after the Huskies’ loss to Colorado on Saturday. “We don’t have a lot of margin for error at this point.”
Washington might have the tools to make that strong finish a reality. With the top scoring offense in the Pac-12, the Huskies play a fast paced game that runs the second-most possessions of any squad in the country. That blistering pace relies on the multifaceted scoring ability of redshirt senior guard Andrew Andrews — who is having a breakout season for Washington with an average of 20.5 points per game — and defensive effort that forces the ninth-most turnovers of any squad in the nation. This allows the offense to get out quickly in transition and could pose a problem for a Cal offense that committed 27 turnovers on its last road trip.
Yet, if the Bears can hold onto the ball, they shouldn’t have too much trouble against the Huskies’ defense. Allowing an average of 80.5 points per game, Washington’s scoring defense ranks 328th out of 346 total teams in the country. This could provide an important opportunity for a Cal team that has struggled all season to find an offensive stride away from home.
“You can’t have those mental breakdowns at the level where it’s a close game, and all of a sudden it goes from six to eight and now you’re down, and you have to fight your way back into it,” Martin said. “That’s been our dilemma on the road, to just really execute every possession on offense and defense, taking good shots and not getting rid of the ball too quick.”
Dani Jo Coony covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].