Q & A with California Golden Blogs

One of the great things about playing Cal is that it gives us an excellent excuse to catch up with the boys from one of our favorite SB Nation sites, California Golden Blogs. We each took a few moments to answer some questions from the other (if that even remotely makes any sense), and what follows are the answers of the one and only TwistNHook.

You can find our answers to their questions here. Go over and make yourself at home -- they're a welcoming bunch.

CougCenter: So, your football team started out highly ranked. Your basketball team started out highly ranked. Are you guys on the verge of suicide yet, or is this just par for the course in being a Cal fan?

CGB: Cal fans are used to emotional devastation. We wouldn't be Cal fans if we weren't always crying on the inside. Always. Nobody is better set for dealing with failure than Cal fans. (Editor's note: Does he seriously think Coug fans are going to let this statement slide unchallenged?) And honestly the Pac-10 is so wide open this year that we have as good of a chance of success than anybody else. Sure, we lost to a weakened UCLA team. At home. But UW lost to Oregon who lost to OSU who got crushed by Seattle. So, it's anybody's ballgame. It's still early and Cal is sitting at 2-1, tied for first. I think we're likely to make the tournament, even if we don't win the Pac-10, and for Cal fans, just making the tournament has been a rare occurrence these past five years.

CougCenter: At this point, is it even realistic to expect that this team could approach the once lofty expectations for it?

CGB: Assuming the lofty expectations are a Pac-10 title and a semi-deep tourney run, it certainly is possible for this team to meet its expectations. I'm not sure how many of us really believed the preseason hype that we were a top 15 team. While injuries limited the Bears' depth and probably cost us at least a game or two of OOC play, the team has shown promise when healthy (though our sixth man just went down with an injury). With the Pac-10 looking even worse than anticipated, it certainly seems possible that Cal can capture the conference crown. 

Whether that will happen remains to be seen, of course. It seems that fans will be delighted with winning the conference and would be happy with the season even if Cal goes on to lose in the first round. If Cal narrowly misses the conference crown, but wins a couple games in the tourney, fans should still be pleased. If the team does its best impression of the football team, it will be a long offseason in Berkeley.

CougCenter: Unfortunately, we already know how good Jerome Randle is. Tell us how good another player is -- someone we might not know much about.

Max Zhang.  This China native has long been a fan favorite, but is now finally starting to come into his own. I'll quote liberally from the AP here:

BERKELEY, CALIF. - Max Zhang's long arms in the middle of the paint made things tough on Stanford all game.

He altered shots. He dunked on offense. He fired up his California teammates and the fans, too.

"It pumps everybody up. The crowd obviously loves Max," point guard Jerome Randle said. "His confidence is at an all-time high. That really makes our team better. I told him he's the guy who can take us far."

Zhang provided a big boost off the bench for the Golden Bears. The 7-foot-3 sophomore had a career-high 13 points to go with four rebounds and three blocked shots.

"Max was huge," coach Mike Montgomery said. "Doggone, the kid's long and he does cause problems for people. Everybody's pleased when Max does well and I think everybody feels good about it."

Zhang went 5 for 7 from the floor and hit 3 of 5 free throws as Cal scored its most points against Stanford since a 101-91 victory on March 5, 1977.

"Tonight is the best I've experienced at Cal, because it's an important rivalry game and it's the first conference game," Zhang said. "There are a lot of details I have to keep working on."

CougCenter: Defense seems to be the key to unlocking Cal's potential. How's that coming along?

The Bears are a much better defensive team than last year. 129th in eFG% (159th last year),  62nd in defensive efficiency (101st last year), 24th at hitting the defensive glass (106th last year). Randle, Theo Robertson and Patrick Christopher are never going to be known as all-Defense guys, but they have clearly worked on that side of the ball and Cal's perimeter defense and rotations look much better. Luckily for you, there will be no Jorge Gutierrez for this game, so that takes our best one-on-one defender away from guarding Klay Thompson.

If the Cougars want to attack the Bears successfully, exploit the bigs. Zhang and Markhuri Sanders-Frison are too slow to rotate and make it from perimeter to paint, so if you could free up guards through screens. The Bears miss Harper Kamp  (their best big defender), so if the Cougars want a lot of success, pick and roll, pick and pop, set the screen (http://www.californiagoldenblogs.com/2010/1/8/1240495/more-on-ucla-debacle-podcast-+).

CougCenter: If any of us could watch Thursday's game on TV -- which, of course, we can't thanks to the Pac-10's ridiculous television contract -- tell us what we'd probably see in terms of how the Bears are going to try and strategically attack the Cougs.

Uhh, I sadly don't know much about your team because they're never on TV, but I'd assume Cal will do exactly what they always do ... look for good, wide-open, high-percentage shots. They'll try to attack the rim at times, but for the most part they'll probably rely on perimeter jumpers and Theo, PC, and Randle to nail as many as possible to bring the victory home. We don't have any skilled finishers except maybe Omondi Amoke (Boykin and MSF can score, but mostly through their jumpers), and Randle and Theo can occasionally can get the basket. Expect the key for Cal's offense to be ball-movement, player-movement, occasional screening, and getting guys into places where they're shooting open shots.

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