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OPEN HOOPS GAME THREAD: Cal at WSU

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7 PM PST -- Friel Court at Beasley Coliseum

Pac-10 GameTracker

Kenpom.com prediction: Bears win 58-57 (60 possesions, 54 percent confidence)

PROBABLE STARTERS

WSU Cougars Ht. Wt. Pos. Yr. PPG RPG APG
Taylor Rochestie 6-1 193 G Sr. 10.3 3.7 4.5
Klay Thompson 6-6 187 G Fr. 10.8 4.9 1.5
Daven Harmeling 6-7 227 F Sr. 6.8 1.6 0.8
Caleb Forrest 6-8 223 F Sr. 6.4 3.3 0.3
Aron Baynes 6-10 250 C Sr. 11.4 5.8 0.5
Cal Golden Bears Ht. Wt. Pos. Yr. PPG RPG APG
Jerome Randle 5-10 160 G Jr. 19.5 3.3 5.1
Patrick Christopher 6-5 215 G Jr. 15.0 3.7 2.0
Theo Robertson 6-6 225 G Jr. 11.9 3.5 2.1
Jamal Boykin 6-8 230 F Jr. 9.5 5.6 0.5
Jordan Wilkes 7-0 225 C Jr. 4.9 4.0 0.8

Heading into the season, this was one of those games we pointed to as one the Cougs needed to win. It's still a game the Cougs need to win, although for far different reasons than we all thought.

Cal has established itself as a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender, while the Cougs seem to be on the verge of slipping into irrelevance just two weekends into the conference schedule. Giving the 2-0 Bears their comeuppance would go a long way toward re-establishing confidence that this season still can be more than just a rebuilding year.

It's tempting to think that the difference maker for the Bears has been diminutive point guard Jerome Randle, who has raised his scoring average from 11.8 points to 19.5 points and assists from 3.8 to 5.1. But the real difference -- no surprise for a Montgomery team -- has been the Bears' defense. I'm not sure what's being done different, as I haven't seen this team yet (and I'm not going to tonight, either -- thanks FSN!), but their eFG% allowed is down from 51.9 in 07-08 (255th nationally) to 46.0 (75th).

That, of course, is not good news for a team that can't score. But there is room for optimism. This is yet another opponent that lacks a legitimate inside presence, and Aron Baynes ought to be able to make some hay ... if he can get enough touches and shots.

Offensively, it's tempting to look at the Bears' gaudy 3-point shooting percentage -- 50.5, first in the country -- and think they're exclusively a jack-it-up team. But they actually only attempt 3's on less than a quarter of their shots (23.3 percent, 334th nationally). What they are is remarkably efficient with their 3's, and they're due for an off shooting night at some point. Nobody shoots 50 percent on 3's for the season.

I've got a good feeling about tonight, believe it or not. I've got a sneaking suspicion that the Bears have started to believe their own myth, and I think Tony Bennett's got some wrinkles in store for Mike Montgomery. And if this team can't get fired up to defend its home court after what happened on Saturday ... well, then we've got bigger problems than we thought.

Obviously, the game's not on TV tonight, but for as much as we make fun of the Pac-10 around here, they do one thing right: Their GameTracker (linked at the top) is actually pretty cool. Watching that in tandem with Bud's call of the game on your local affiliate (or by itself if you're out of the area) isn't half bad, given the circumstances.

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