Following the exciting win over Stanford, Cal looks to finish off the season strong during a road trip to the desert, starting with a match against the Arizona State Sun Devils. While an early March game between conference bottom feeders may seem inconsequential, there are certainly stakes to Cal’s duel with the Devils.
Currently, the Sun Devils are the first team ahead of the Bears in the standings. If Cal can put this win under its belt, the Bears would likely jump Arizona State in conference standing and give themselves better seeding for the Pac-12 tournament.
Seeding and matchups are critical for lower-tier teams such as Cal. If the blue and gold can take over Arizona State in the standings, this would likely set the Bears up for a date with the Cardinal, whom coach Mark Fox has shown to be very effective against historically and this season.
However, if the blue and gold blow this match with the Devils, they could be set to face off against the Washington Huskies. This would certainly not be ideal for Fox’s squad, as the Huskies have beaten the brakes off of the Bears this season, winning both matchups by a combined 30 points.
Luckily for Cal, the team should not have too much trouble with Arizona State, even if it is now down a valuable Andre Kelly. The last time these two teams faced off, it was a blowout in the Bears’ favor, 74-50.
Although Arizona State has no standout star player, the Devils do have depth. Arizona State has six players averaging double digits, which is certainly notable, regardless of the team’s record.
In theory, this should be a tough matchup, as facing a team with that many capable scorers is usually tough to game plan against. However, a deeper dive into the numbers does reveal something: This team cannot shoot.
As a team, Arizona State is currently shooting 30% on 3s, an overall field goal percentage of 40.7% and 66.8% from the charity stripe. As the overall numbers might suggest, they have just one player shooting above 40% on 3s this season.
Cal would be wise to play the percentages and encourage the Sun Devils to take outside shots in half-court sets — albeit somewhat contested.
What the Bears must be wary of is the Sun Devils’ ability to score in transition. While Arizona State doesn’t have much shooting, it is very capable of beating teams by filling the lanes in transition and slashing.
Cal won’t have to play phenomenally to beat the home team, but Arizona State’s wealth of athletes means that the Bears must take care of the ball — or else the Devils will be dancing in transition.
“When we play the game the right way, obviously we have a very slim margin for error,” Fox said when asked about Cal’s play moving forward.
However, just because a team is capable of getting a lot of steals, this does not mean said team is any good defensively. Arizona State tends to gamble a lot on defensive possessions and not time hedges or double teams correctly. This gambling gives the opposing team opportunities to cut backdoor and score easy points. Thus, as long as Cal doesn’t get lackadaisical and is purposeful with its offense, there’s no reason this game should be lost.
“I don’t think we played out of character at all, I think we played the way we know how to play, how we practice,” said forward Grant Anticevich following the win against Stanford.
Like Grant said, if the Bears just play the way they know how to play and build off of their strengths, Cal fans should be expecting nothing less than a win.