Even if very little else is clear, we at least know that Cal has enjoyed a better 2010-11 than Stanford has. The Bears opened their conference schedule with a disappointing blow-out at the hands of the Card in Maples Pavilion, but have gone 9-7 since and have beaten UCLA and narrowly lost to conference-leading Arizona in a triple-overtime nail-biter early in February. Meanwhile, Stanford has won only 6 of its 16 games since the win against Berkeley, and has never won more than 2 conference games in a row this winter. Considering the bitter rivalry between the two teams and Stanford’s triumph in their first meeting, the Card will likely have a decent chance to win. But it’s no surprise that the Golden Bears will step onto the floor of their home Haas Pavilion as the favorites.
Keys to the Game
- Jorge Gutierrez: Cal’s junior forward has emerged as the leader of the team and one of the finest players in the PAC-10. Gutierrez has averaged 24 points per game over his last three games, all of which were victories for Cal. He leads the second-most efficient offense in the conference and will almost certainly appear on most pre-season all-conference lists next fall. He struggled against Stanford in January (11 points, 36% FG shooting, 4 fouls) but still managed to dish out 8 assists. Cal will need Gutierrez to score more than 11 points, but head coach Mike Montgomery will be happy with another 8-assist performance.
- The Post: Stanford and Cal average about the same number of rebounds per game, and size down low doesn’t favor either team. Cal has shown that it can consistently score in the post, though, whereas Stanford has had to rely on good shooting nights from three to keep pace with PAC-10 teams. Upperclassmen forwards Harper Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison combine for an average of 25 points and 13 rebounds per game, while freshman Richard Solomon has been good for 15-20 minutes off the bench. Kamp scored 16 points last time against Stanford, but only managed to collect 2 rebounds. Sanders-Frison had a nice game (14 points, 9 rebounds) and used his, shall we say, big-boned frame (265 pounds) to push around a Stanford team that is taller but has no player within 35 pounds of him. Last time, Dwight Powell went off for 20 points, 7 rebounds, and a spirited stare-down of Kamp after Powell dunked on the Cal forward. If Powell can play another excellent game and Josh Owens can chip in 15 points and 8 rebounds, Stanford should at least have a chance to win the game late.
- The Zone: Stanford struggles against zone defenses, and Cal has turned into a mostly zone team. Stanford will probably be tempted to heave up a lot of threes after exploiting holes in the zone. If Jeremy Green and Anthony Brown both have hot hands from behind the arc, then Stanford will do a lot of its scoring from downtown. If the shots don’t fall, the Card could be in for another night of lots of turnovers and not many good looks to score.
- Strength of Schedule: Cal has played the nation’s 10th-strongest schedule, featuring games against Kansas, San Diego State, New Mexico, and Notre Dame. Stanford has faced the country’s 68th-best schedule and the 307th-best non-conference slate. This isn’t the BCS, but playing good opponents helps develop a team. Cal’s played good competition, and Stanford hasn’t with the exception of the PAC-10 teams. With the season largely gone, Cal should be able to draw on the lessons learned from a very difficult schedule and turn in a mentally tough regular season finale.
- Home Court: Cal has it, and Stanford’s young squad has troubled on the road all season. The Card are 3-7 in true road games this year, and Cal is 10-6 this season in Haas Pavilion. With the environment of Senior Night also going for Cal, the Bears should have some extra oomph thanks to the home court advantage.