It should be a battle of tempo. But I'm thinking it won't be. Read on for why.
• As most in attendance at Beasley Coliseum watch the Florida-Oklahoma football game – I'm trying my best to ignore it as the DVR is running at home – we've been wandering around. Talked with Mike Montgomery for a little while and that's why I'm thinking this game won't be played at fast pace.
See, the Bears would like to make it an up-and-down game, but they understand that won't be easy. Not against WSU's transition defense. So Montgomery won't want his team to force shots early in the shot clock. If they do, then that helps a Cougar team that's struggled to score this season. No, if the Bears don't get an open look in transition, I expect them to run their sets and get good shots out of their offense. If you could see tonight's game – there is no TV whatsoever – you would see Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson run off a bunch of staggered double screens, trying to get open looks. You would see Jerome Randle pass the ball, try to get lost in traffic around the basket, then pop out, looking to either shoot a jumper or try to bounce it to the rim. You would see the ball go into the post as a way to free a player on the perimeter. You would see a much more patient Cal team than last season. And that's one reason its better – the fact Randle, Christopher, Boykin and Wilkes are a year older and Robertson's healthy also helps.
But the main point is this Cal team plays smarter on the offensive end and harder on the defensive side. The Cougars best hope is to frustrate the Bears and force them into bad decisions with the ball – quick shots, turnovers, out-of-control drives, etc. If that happens, the Bears will not score at their usual pace.
On the other end, this is a game in which Aron Baynes really needs to step up. The Bears' inside defense isn't good enough to keep him under wraps and he needs to assert himself like Jeff Pendergraph and Jordan Hill did last weekend. Watching Cal on tape this week, I was struck on how slow they reacted to the ball when it was entered in the post. In the second half against ASU, it looked like the Bears wanted to double Pendergraph, but never got there. Which allowed him to either score or find an open teammate. Baynes needs to do the same tonight.
As for other needs on offense – there's a lot, of course – the outside shooting needs to step up tonight because the looks should be there. Hit a few and this is a different game.
• That's it for now. I'll be back at halftime. Till then …