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California Bears at UW Huskies Game Preview


Much has been discussed in this space lately regarding the 2-3 zone. I’ve pointed out some specific ways in which a team can attack it, and much of it involves ball distribution, which has been a problem for our Huskies during this three-game skid. CODawg pointed out to me that I missed one: the transition. I haven’t emphasized defense much here, and in fact pointed out—contrary to what both Lorenzo Romar and Isaiah Thomas said in yesterday’s Seattle Times—that it was the offense that was crippling this team, and that the defense had been merely lax in response to the poor performance at the other end.

Defense is responsible for the transition. Long rebounds, quick outlet passes and lots of running produce transition points. Seeing the transition points is going to be important tonight, as California is averaging 45.1% from the field, which while by no means terrible, should produce enough opportunities for UW to get out and run, which Romar mentioned as a problem during the past couple of weeks.

I wanted to look at more general ways in which UW could attack the zone, particularly in half court offense situations. To do so, I checked out yesterday’s Georgetown @ Syracuse, which the Hoyas won, 64-56. The Syracuse Orange run perhaps the most famous 2-3 in the country, and I wanted to see how another quality offense attacks it.

It’s about the momentum of the play. Hitting the "soft spot" in the paint collapses the zone, and inevitably leaves shooters open. But what if your gunners aren’t hitting? The key is either hitting the high percentage shot in the paint, or dishing out and immediately setting a screen on the elbow or wing, allowing the sharp changes in ball motion to manipulate the defenders out of position. After the jump, a few notes on the California Bears’ particularly brand of zone, what the Huskies need to do (specifically) to beat it, the projected starters, and a few particular things to watch out for.


I’ve beaten the question of the zone to death, at this point. The question is does California come out and dare us to beat them with bombs and penetration? It’s been noted that Matthew Bryan-Amaning is our only scoring option in the low post, and that he’s not the best passer out there. I agree on both points, and I do think the Bears come out in a 2-3. I saw some of their recent game against Arizona State, and there it was: the dreaded zone.


The Bears do a great job talking along the back "3" of the 2-3. The past three games (although not as prevalent against Oregon) have caught MBA just sort of camping out on the baseline. He needs to aggressively attack, and early. The Bears don’t have much length in their starting five, and Hec Ed is loud. Just hope Bryan-Amaning has the awareness to find slashers or spot-up guys if the Bears collapse the zone and double- and triple-team him.

Another thing regarding Cal’s zone: they seem to be vulnerable to that ball momentum I mentioned. I counted a few times against Arizona State—a team we are unquestionably more athletic than—that Cal collapsed, re-expanded and then failed to collapse a second time on the penetration, either on a ball screen or a straight dribble drive. They also force shooters to prove themselves, playing off the ball until someone gets hot.

Final note regarding the zone: I want to see Justin Holiday get involved down low. That sounds a little odd, I know, given his value shooting the three, but I recall several plays in which he and MBA were able to play a little two-man game around the soft spot, and Holiday shoots 75.6% from the line. He’s athletic, and given our utter ineptitude in truly attacking the basket lately, he may throw a wrinkle in that Cal isn’t prepared for.

Projected Starters

UW: Isaiah Thomas (5'8", 185, Jr.), Scott Suggs (6'6", 185, Jr.), Justin Holiday (6'6", 180, Sr.), Matthew Bryan-Amaning (6'9", 240, Sr.), Aziz N'Diaye (7'0", 260, So.).

CAL: Brandon Smith (5’11", 185, So.), Jorge Gutierrez (6’3", 195, Jr.), Allen Crabbe (6’6", 205 Fr.), Harper Kamp (6’8", 250, Jr.), Markhuri Sanders-Frison (6’7", 275, Sr.).

Things to Watch

California plays an odd starting five, with three guards, one forward, and a center. They also have four guys averaging double figures in significant minutes. Hopefully Isaiah and Suggs can be disruptive enough to force one of these guys off their game. Gutierrez is going to get his points. Lorenzo Romar will likely match Holiday up against Crabbe, and hopefully the advantage in experience forces Crabbe into some disadvantageous situations.

Terrence Ross, as always, is someone to keep an eye on. Maybe coming home jump starts his game some. Ross along with Venoy Overton both need to have solid, mistake-free games in order to make this the blowout the Huskies need to generate some momentum (if one believes in that sort of thing) to finish out the second half of the season. I’m not sure what Romar’s plan was if one of our guards were to get hurt, but Abdul Gaddy’s gone, Lorenzo. Talk Venoy up, give Holiday the green light off the dribble, do whatever you need to do in order to get it done. 

The Huskies postseason hopes are far from dead. We have tonight, against a decent but not spectacular Bears squad to get things back on track. Next up is Stanford and a chance to avenge a close loss on the road to the Cardinal. Then the Arizona road trip and a key game against the University of Arizona. The next four games are going to define the season. Tonight can’t make the season, but it can break it. Let’s see it, guys.