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NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Stanford Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

What Watch For: Previewing WSU @ Cal

The Cougs take on the bottom of the Pac-12, looking to get to .500 on the season and over .500 in conference play

WSU looks to secure a sweep of the Bay area schools on the road against Cal. Cal has been the worst team in the Pac-12 this season and they have lost 12 straight for the second time this season. All three of their wins have come at home, though, and it is important that WSU not enter this game assuming a win is inevitable.

The game tips off from Haas Pavilion at 2:00 PM PST and can be watched on the Pac-12 Network.

Cal Golden Bears


Cal has been far and away the worst offense in the Pac-12 this season and there is not much they do well on that end. They rank 12th in the conference in two-point percentage, 8th in three-point percentage, and 12th in three-point attempt rate, so they struggle to score with efficiency on any spot on the court. They do slow the game down, ranking 12th in the conference in pace, but they aren’t winning the possession game despite that slow pace. They rank 9th in turnover rate and 10th in offensive rebound rate. WSU is far from the most elite defense in the conference this season, but Cal will struggle to put up points against them all the same.

Cal is a ball-screen heavy offense, but they rarely run normal, spread pick-and-roll. The Golden Bears run a lot of these boomer sets, where two screeners set screens for the ball-handlers and one pops while the other rolls.

They like to add these cyclone rescreens in, where the roll-man sets another screen for the popping screener. This usually just gets them into middle ball-screens, but it can sometimes lead to a rip drive or a slip to the rim.

Cal will also run some Spain actions, where a wing sets a back-pick for the roll-man to try and open up a driving lane or a lob over the top.

Cal also utilizes a lot of off-ball screening actions in their set offense. Lots of these off-ball screens are decoys that allow them to run the clock, but they can occasionally create a good look with their stagger screens or pindowns.

WSU ran a lot of zone against Cal and the Golden Bears struggled with it more than most Pac-12 teams. Their main goal against WSU’s four-around-one zone is to get the ball to the baseline and make plays from there.

They don’t run set plays against the zone, but they do rely on quick decision-making to generate easy layups. WSU’s zone is so extended and it leaves a major soft spot on the baseline that can be exploited.


Cal’s defense is equally as poor as their offense, ranking 12th in the conference in Kenpom’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. They rank 1st in opponents’ time of possession and they struggle to slow teams down despite playing incredibly slow on offense. They rank 12th in opponent two-point percentage, 8th in opponent three-point percentage, and 9th in opponent three-point attempt rate. Opponents can get basically whatever shot they want against the Golden Bears with little resistance. They also force almost no turnovers- 11th in turnover rate, allow a lot of offensive boards- 8th in defensive rebound rate, and foul a ton- 11th in opponent free throw rate.

Cal guards the post straight-up, which led to a lot of great opportunities for Mouhamed Gueye down low. Gueye can get buckets on all of Cal’s bigs, but they were unwilling to double and concede open threes.

Cal likes to high-catch with their bigs, which allowed WSU to get downhill against downhill with ease against their slower-footed bigs. Cal has solid athleticism on the perimeter, but they struggle mightily to contain penetration.

Cal is also late in help consistently, which is a problem for them against WSU’s off-ball screening actions. WSU’s quick decision-making helped them get a lot of open looks on cuts because Cal was not in-tune with their off-ball actions.

Players to Watch

Joel Brown is likely Cal’s best player and his playmaking from the guard spot has been one of the few bright spots for the Golden Bears this year. Brown was compared to Rajon Rondo out of high school and it is easy to see where that comparison comes from. His assist totals are hurt by playing with poor shooters and roll-men, but the best passes still pop on film.

Kuany Kuany has not quite lived up to expectations during his senior year, but the 6’9 wing still has the skill to go off for some big games. He excels hunting his own shot in the mid-range and he can get hot from deep if his touch is at its best. His size and touch are impressive and he has been known to have some big moments against the Cougs.

Monty Bowser is one of many Cal players that has struggled to find any consistency, but the talent is still intriguing. He is a good vertical athlete who flashes an occasional dribble move that pops. The 6’7 redshirt-sophomore tends to have a highlight dunk every few games and he could get one today too.

Washington State Cougars

Players to Watch

TJ Bamba didn’t play in WSU’s last matchup with Cal and he is a game-changer for the Cougs when healthy. Bamba is coming off of what might be his best game in a WSU uniform, as he put up 22 points on 9-14 shooting from the field and 4-5 shooting from deep. Bamba should have many advantageous offensive matchups in this one and this could be a huge, momentum building game for him heading into March.

Jabe Mullins has been an undersong player for WSU, but he has been one of the best 6th-men in the Pac-12 and his offense has really rounded into a complete package. Mullins is shooting 42.3% from deep on the season, leveling out after an insane hot streak and a tough cold stretch into one of the most consistent shooters in the conference. He also provides a lot as a passer and opportunistic playmaker. He is maybe the most ambitious passer on the team and he has started to leverage his jumper to consistently create and exploit passing lanes.

Kymany Houinsou has only scored in double figures once so far this season, but this feels like the game he could crack ten once again. Houinsou scored 9 in the home game against Cal, including the first four points for the Cougs in that one. It could make sense to play him good minutes if WSU can build an early lead to rest the likes of Bamba and Mouhamed Gueye. Houinsou could see some minutes at the five in this one with Adrame Diongue still out and that should open up a lot of drives for him.

What to Watch For

Maximizing transition opportunities could be a way for WSU to build a comfortable lead in this one. Cal plays like a team that has only won three games at times, which means that there are a lot of cookies to be had by just out-hustling them down the floor. WSU is not a particularly potent transition team, but they have the talent to run and it would help them put this game away quicker if they can just outrun the Bears consistently.

Generating good looks from deep within the flow of the offense is always a key for WSU, but it is specifically interesting to monitor in this one because the Cougs could experiment with some sets. WSU has a lot of set plays that they run to generate shots from deep and this might be the last chance this season that they’d get to add new plays. It is important that they don’t underestimate Cal and come out lazy, but this is a chance for the Cougs to add some new wrinkles offensively before a huge Apple Cup matchup and the conference tournament.

Question of the Game

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