UCLA has won five in a row including four on the current home stand highlighted by a win over #7 Missouri. Cal has gone 2-4 in their last six games including losing to Harvard in their last game. But as is often the case stats can be somewhat deceiving.
Cal has owned UCLA recently including a sweep last year. In the last seven games against Cal UCLA is 2-5. The two UCLA wins have come by a total of three points on two buzzer beaters. One a Reeves Nelson tip in as time expired at home and the other a Michael Roll shot after he picked up the ball Jerime Anderson just fumbled at the buzzer at Cal.
The nature of Cal's wins has been somewhat alarming as well. An average Cal team beat a decent UCLA team in 2010-11 as Jorge Guiterezz destroyed UCLA and Howland decided too late to switch Malcolm Lee on him. In a game last year, Cal's bigs looked like NBA players when former walk on Robert Thurman went 5-5 and skinny waif David Kravish scored a then career high 13 points in UCLA's worst lost to Cal since Lavin was coach. Cal won both games against UCLA last year by a total of 26 points.
In a nutshell UCLA has come very close to go 0 for their last 7 against Cal and part of that is the fact that Montgomery has out coached Howland. (I will admit I think Monty is the best coach in PAC 12 and one of the best in the country.)
So while the records say UCLA should win this game at home easy, the Cal Bears may be a tough game.
Any discussion of Cal starts with Pac 12 leading scorer Allen Crabbe. Crabbe has been phenomenal and is having his best year. He even passes and rebounds the ball well for a wing. Crabbe is a lock to score 20 against the Bruins Thursday. The only question is how many more points will he score?
Cal has a good point guard as well in Justin Cobbs. Cobbs is only averaging 3.8 assists per game but is averaging over 16 points a game while shooting a fantastic 53% from the field. Cobbs is not good from three or outside, look for him to take it to the basket often against UCLA. Along with Crabbe he is a good free throw shooter, both are shooting over 85%.
While Cobbs and Crabbe will both likely light up UCLA for a lot of points, the key may be if UCLA can stop the other guys or maybe just put more points on the board. Richard Solomon and David Kravish are the bigs for Cal. Neither are threats from the outside. Both are good but not great rebounders. Both have had good games in the past against UCLA. Look for Cobbs to run the go to play against UCLA of the screen and roll with Kravish and Solomon. An obtainable key on defense may be limiting these two easy baskets.
The fifth starter is Tyrone Wallace. Wallace is the kind of player UCLA use to like. Right now he is raw but he is a good athlete that has the potential to be a very good defender.
Looking at this game in the abstract it should be an easy win for UCLA. But Montgomery has come within a couple bad bounces of winning seven in a row against UCLA. It will be interesting to watch what he does to shut down or limit UCLA’s offense and how he exploits UCLA defense.
Being at home should provide the difference for UCLA but this could be a tough game for UCLA.