Coach Tony Bennett and his Washington State Cougars (12-10, 4-6) will be looking to even their record on the current road trip to California (17-6, 6-4) when they face the Cal Golden Bears in Berkeley on Saturday evening.
The Cougars are going to have to find good shooting if they are serious about beating a very solid Cal team.
Thursday night, coach Mike Montgomery drew up a game plan to complete a season sweep of the Washington Huskies. His team followed the plan beautifully, and earned a convincing victory by a final score of 86-71.
Coach Bennett has never lost to Cal at Haas Pavilion.
For Montgomery's Bears, they love their home cooking. His team is an astonishing 13-1 on the hardwood floor of Haas this season.
Washington State has struggled all season to find someone who can score consistently, other than senior Aron Baynes inside and freshman Klay Thompson outside. The game between these two teams in Pullman was decided because of that weakness. Cal held the Cougs to 37% shooting from the floor.
Even for a team that plays great defense like Washington State, missing two-thirds of your shot attempts isn't going to earn many wins in the Pac-10. That's especially true when your team transitions to defense as soon as a shot is taken. Pretty tough to get an offensive rebound when four players turn upcourt when the ball is in the air.
This game will be decided on how well Washington State can shoot the basketball.
In the game in Pullman last month, the Cougs played their typical pressure defense. And it worked. They held the Bears to just 57 points, well below their season average. That's likely to be the case once again Saturday night.
If Coach Montgomery only has to worry about Thompson and Baynes, his team will handle the Cougs as comfortably as they did with the Huskies Thursday night.
There's one other team comparison that highlights a significant difference between these two teams.
In 23 games this season, Montgomery has started the same five players.
In 22 games this season, Bennett has yet to find a starting five he can count on consistently.
As a head coach, Bennett has found himself in another uncharted territory. He's never had a team lose 10 or more games in a season.
Coach Montgomery left the television headset to return to coaching for one simple reason—he loves the challenge of coaching players at the highest level of college basketball. Anyone who doesn't believe he's one of the best at preparing his players need simply look at the man's record.
As cool and calm a demeanor that's displayed by Coach Bennett, don't kid yourself. This man is a competitor. He will craft a gameplan that will put his players in a position to win.
It's up to the Washington State young guns to execute at both ends of the court.
All the elements are in place for them to pick up another Pac-10 win.