November 24th, 2006

Out of Hibernation

I got my first chance to watch this year's model of the Cal men's basketball team last night. The absence of Leon Powe -- who made the Celtics, incidentally, and has played a little, with promise -- is huge, but I liked most of what I saw. Although the Bears played uncharacteristically poor defense and shot poorly for much of the game, they generally shot well from behind the arc and were money from the free throw line. It was nice to see last year's freshman surprise Theo Robertson doing the hustle again. The reliable Ayinde Ubaka played very well in the second half. The big treat, though, was watching the team's freshmen rise to the occasion. Small, fast point guard Jerome Randle struggled at times, but made a huge four-point play. And 6'10" Ryan Anderson, who came into the contest averaging 22 points per game, made it to 19 despite only scoring twice in the first half. It looks like he might be something special, since he has strong moves in the paint, can knock down his free throws, and has the best three-point stroke I've ever seen in a Cal big man, surpassing even Amit Tamir in smoothness. If they can only develop the defensive intensity we've come to expect from Ben Braun-coached teams, they will surprise some folks in league play. Merely having the capacity to get hot from behind the arc in a way that recent Bears squads have not gives me hope of a big upset or two. I still think, given the strength of UCLA, Arizona and Washington and the expected resurgence of Oregon and USC, that Cal is probably NIT-bound. But you never know. I'll be watching again tonight at 10pm -- 9pm on the West Coast -- to see if I can sustain my tempered optimism.