The Washington State Cougars return home to face the California Golden Bears on Wednesday (7 pm PT, Pac-12 Network). Cal took the first meeting between the teams this season back on January 9 in Berkeley, a 73-66 win that was led by an uncharacteristically strong offensive performance from the Golden Bears.
Cal has been better offensively on a per-possession basis three times during league play, and two of those also came at home. The Golden Bears have struggled to put the basket on the road against Pac-12 teams—scoring less than 0.80 points per possessions in four of fives games (league average in Pac-12 play has been nearly 1.02).
Matt Bradley and Paris Austin were the catalysts to Cal’s offense the first time out against WSU, particularly inside. The two were able to get to the rim often, as well as bury several long 2-point jumpers, en route to making a combined 14-18 inside the arc.
WSU will be without Isaac Bonton, an excellent perimeter defender who would likely be in charge of checking Austin. The Cougs will have to figure how to stop penetration from the guards and wings, and it will be interesting to see the lineups Kyle Smith uses to combat that.
The Cougs have typically been much better defensively at home than on the road—so maybe that combined with Cal’s similar splits on offense will mean a much different looking scoring output from the Golden Bears.
One thing that seems highly possible is that Cal will turn the ball over frequently—it did so in Berkeley, and Mark Fox’s squad has been prone to big turnover numbers at times. The Cougs have forced giveaways at the third-highest rate during Pac-12 play.
When WSU has the ball, the absence of Bonton will certainly be felt. CJ Elleby took an even larger burden of the offense against USC than usual without Bonton on the floor, and Noah Williams was much more aggressive in seeking his shot. The Cougs don’t have any healthy options left on the roster than can come close to matching Bonton’s playmaking ability, so that will mean fewer open looks for the bigs inside against a Cal defense that is at its best when defending the interior.
It would help if guys like Elleby, Williams, and Tony Miller could draw contact and get to the line—Cal has been one of the more foul-happy teams in the conference. It would also help if WSU took care of the ball, as the Golden Bears aren’t likely to force many turnovers via steals.
Wazzu could find some success on the outside—Cal gives up 3-point attempts at an above average rate and defends them at a well-below-average percentage. Don’t expect the Golden Bears to shoot much from deep—they shoot 3-pointers at one of the lowest rates in the country, while WSU allows them at the 26th-lowest rate.
If Bonton was healthy, this would feel like a potential easy win coming for WSU, given its success at home and Cal’s struggles on the road. However, with such a key piece out, the playing field is a little more even. The Cougs still probably have an advantage overall, but the margin for error is smaller.
If you’d like to follow the action, the Washington State Men’s Basketball Twitter account has you covered with TV, stream, radio, and stats info: