Dec 2, 2013; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears head coach Mike Montgomery calls out to his players against the UC Irvine Anteaters during the first half at Haas Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Gameday Preview: Cal vs. UC Santa Barbara

Cal continues their quest for the State Championship as they take on yet another UC school tonight when they head to the Thunderdome, home of the UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos:

Location: The Thunderdome
Conference: Big West
Record: 3-3 (NR)
Ranking: Unranked
Notable Wins: at. UNLV (86-65)
SOS: 8th
Radioo: KGO 810

Monday night, Cal won their first game since returning home from the Maui Invitational Tournament when they blew out the UC-Irvine Anteaters, 73-56. Now they head back out on the road to take out on the UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos in the Thunderdome. This should be a relatively easier match-up than Monday night’s battle against the Anteaters, but that doesn’t mean this game won’t bring up it’s own challenges that could benefit Cal going forward.

Dec 3, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UC Santa Barbara Gauchos center Alan Williams (15) drives against UCLA Bruins forward Wanaah Bail during the game at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

WHO ARE THE GAUCHOS

The Gauchos were a terrible team last year. They end the year 11-20, good enough for 7th in the Big West. But, they were able to play to within 9 points of the Bears in last years meeting between these two teams. That said, this year the Gauchos should be a vastly improved team from the squad that came into Haas Pavilion and made a run at a win. And while their star from last year’s game, guard Nate Garth, will not be in uniform for the game tonight (graduated), the Gauchos will have a front court that could conceivably be tougher to crack this go round than it was last year.
The best player for the Gauchos will be 6-foot-7 junior center Alan Williams. He played last season, but battled injuries all year long (even so, he was able to put up 17 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 2.3 BPG). He had a decent game against Cal last year (8 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks), but has grown into a premier player, putting up 27.5 PPG, 10.8 RPG and 3.0 BPG. He is supposed to be the main threat to take this year’s Big West Player of the Year award.
Williams is not alone, as he will be aided by sophomore Michael Bryson. Bryson can hit from three, try to make his way for a high percentage shot inside the arc or pass the ball. He can blow up for a crazy offensive game (he had a 29-point game in last year’s season finale) and he will put up good numbers. He averages 12.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG and 2.3 APG. He will be someone to watch, as he tends to determine whether the Gauchos will go with an interior play (and get it to Williams) or whether they will attempt to go outside and get the ball to one of their many sharpshooters (including Kyle Boswell, last year’s Big West Sixth Man of the Year winner, who consistently contributing about 11 points, 4 assists and  3 rebounds per game, has a solid assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.9 and shoots 40% from behind the arc).
Defensively, Santa Barbara uses an attacking zone coverage that really takes away the other team’s perimeter game. They were successful in using said defense against a solid UNLV team and keeping themselves in the game against UCLA before losing in the final minutes. This is the first Pac-12 team to play in The Thunderdome in almost a decade, so this game should be sold out and this team has shown an ability to play tough against good opponents.

KEY MATCHUP

Dec 2, 2013; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears forward Richard Solomon (35) controls a rebound against the UC Irvine Anteaters during the first half at Haas Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The match up to watch is Alan Williams vs. Richard Solomon. Solomon surprised many when he not only played for a good majority of the game against Irvine, but dominated their highly-touted big man Mamadou Ndiaye. However, one thing that tends to get overlooked, is how raw a talent Ndiaye is. Williams is way more polished. He touched the ball a resounding 34% of the time last year, and he no-doubt will be the most integral part to the offense tonight.

Solomom has lived up to all the expectations this season, no one can doubt that. However, he will have to take on a lot of really good front court players during the Pac-12 regular season and in the NCAA tournament. Match ups against the Ndiaye’s and Williams’ of the world are must wins in order for him to be ready once he has to take on the Pac-12 and NCAA front court stars.

Williams is a scoring beast. 27 points is nothing to sniff at. I am going to guess that Coach Montgomery will try to make the Gauchos beat Cal with other forms of offense. I would think that you could see Williams doubled anytime he makes it down low, if not all night long. Expect Solomon and even David Kravish to focus most of their attention tonight on Williams.

PREDICTION

Cal is favored in this match up, even if barely. A week ago, this game would have been one I would have been entirely too worried about. I have since changed my stance on the game, due to the outlandish performance Cal had against an even more hyped player and team in Ndiaye and the Anteaters. That isn’t to say that this is a game Cal can just walk into the building and win because they showed up.

Santa Barbara is a solid team. Easily they’ll be better than 7th in the Big West and way better than the 11-20 record from a year ago. It wouldn’t surprise me if they came away with their first NCAA tournament bid since the 2010-2011 season. They have a good tandem in the backcourt, an amazing center and a good amount of role-players. If you asked any mid-major coach, they’d tell you that list has all the things you’d want for a team you want to take to the post-season.

I predict a close game for half of the game, I even see Cal down at half by a few points. But, like this is a learning experience for Cal, the same can be said for Santa Barbara. The Gauchos will need to learn how to play in an electric setting, something the Thunderdome will surly be tonight.

That said, I will not be surprised if Cal finds a way to lose tonight, but I think Cal has enough talent to win the game and win.

Tags: Allan Williams Cal Golden Bears Coach Mike Montgomery David Kravish Kyle Boswell Mamadou Ndiaye Michael Bryson Richard Solomon

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