WASHINGTON HUSKIES (8-7)
CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS (11-5)
Haas Pavilion – Berkeley, CA
Tip-off: Thursday, 9:00pm ET
Line: California -11.5
California looks to continue their recent dominance over Washington when they host the struggling Huskies in a Thursday evening Pac-12 battle.
The Golden Bears will try to make it six straight wins over Washington (dating back to Jan. 2014) when they host Coach Lorenzo Romar’s Huskies on Thursday. Coach Cuonzo Martin’s Golden Bears are 2-2 in conference play and have covered their last three contests. Last week they split road games in their Los Angeles trip, losing on Thursday in Pauley Pavilion 81-71 (Cal +10.5) and beating USC on Sunday night, 74-73 (Cal +1). The Huskies come off their first conference win as they shellacked Oregon State on Saturday night (87-61). Washington was a 10.5-point favorite at home against the Beavers and managed to take care of business, unlike the last time they were double-digit favorites at home and lost to rival Washington State on New Year’s Day. The Huskies are 1-3 (0-2 ATS) on the road this season, including losses at TCU and Gonzaga. Washington is 5-9 ATS to this point and has failed to cover in each of their seven losses this season. California is 9-2 at home this season and 9-3 as a favorite, but just 4-7 ATS at home and 4-8 ATS as a favorite. Their lone home conference loss came in the Golden Bears’ Pac-12 opener hosting Arizona, as they were defeated 67-62 (Cal -2.5) on Dec. 30. California has not only taken their last five against Washington, but they’re also 5-0 ATS in that span. The last time Washington got in the win column against the Golden Bears was in Jan. 2013 when the Huskies won in Haas Pavilion (62-47) as 5.5-point underdogs. On the injury front, Washington’s already shaky defense took a hit when they learned that senior F Malik Dime (5.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.6 BPG) suffered a broken finger in the second half of their win against Oregon State. Dime will be out for 4-5 weeks.
California’s star, F Ivan Rabb (15.4 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 55% FG), must be salivating over the opportunity to play against the Pac-12’s worst defensive team without their best rim protector (Dime). Rabb has upped his level of play as competition has heightened (last five games; Pac-12 play and at Virginia), averaging 14.2 RPG and posting double-doubles in three of his last five games. Rabb has also started stepping out beyond the three point arc, after not having made a triple in November and December (0-for-2), Rabb is 4-for-5 from downtown over his three 2017 games. California’s solid defense (62.4 PPG, 18th in NCAA) will lay their focus squarely on stopping one-man wrecking crew Markelle Fultz for Washington, although the Huskies supporting cast has started making more noise lately. The Huskies score their fair share of points (83.9 PPG, 17th in NCAA) but scored only 71 points in each of their two road losses to this point (shooting only 30% FG at Gonzaga). California is an elite rebounding team, boasting a +8.3 rebounding margin (15th in NCAA) and are great at shutting down offensive rebounding opportunities (something Washington has excelled at thus far). Washington doesn’t have a monopoly on good freshman point guards, as California boasts Charlie Moore (15.2 PPG, 3.4 APG) who’s excelled since being a starter on day one. The 5’11” jet from Chicago looks to score-first and can be a bit lazy with the ball (3.3 TO) but has the look of an all-league player in the future. When Moore plays under control, as he did at USC on Sunday night (6-for-8 FG, 16 points), California is very tough to beat. Seven-foot Kingsley Okoroh (5.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.6 BPG) is to Coach Martin what Malik Dime was for Washington, an extraordinary rim protector and scrapper. Okoroh will probably have many confrontations in the paint on defense with Washington’s Fultz driving through the lane. G Jabari Bird (14.1 PPG) has seen his percentages and efficiency drop with more scoring opportunity this season, but still has the green light from Coach Martin as the Golden Bear with the best resume from the perimeter.
When talking about the Huskies, the conversation has to begin and end with the inimitable Fultz (22.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 6.4 APG). In a deep NBA draft class, Fultz has as good a chance to go first overall as anyone. That said, it seems lately that the freshman phenom is starting to pace himself and his teammates are responding (positively) in kind. The Huskies are better when Fultz doesn’t have to put on a one-man show with otherworldly stat lines, as shown by Fultz’s ordinary (by his standards) 20 points, three rebounds and five assists in Washington’s convincing win over Oregon State on Saturday. Where the Huskies may need Fultz now, more than anywhere else, is on defense with the loss of Dime. Fultz blocks 1.3 shots per game and will need to protect the paint and crash the boards even more in the 6’10” senior’s absence. California will look to slow the game down and play in the halfcourt, as the Golden Bears average just about 10 possessions less per game than the Huskies, who would rather play at a breakneck pace. While California lost to UCLA, another team who loves to get up and down, the Golden Bears made it tough on the No. 4 Bruins before winning 81-71. It won’t be nearly as tough for California to dictate pace at home against the young Huskies, which means Washington is going to have to be efficient and get offense from multiple options in multiple ways. The Huskies supporting cast featuring G David Crisp (14.1 PPG, 44% 3PT), F Noah Dickerson (11.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG) and F Matisse Thybulle (9.2 PPG, 44% 3PT) will need to step up. Dickerson has struggled once conference play started (3-for-12 FG in his last two games) but will be called on more with Dime’s absence. Thybulle is very inconsistent, but did pour in 17 points on Saturday (7-for-12 FG, 3-for-6 3PT) against the Beavers. Crisp has emerged as a consistent Robin to Fultz’s Batman, scoring double-figures in each of the Huskies last seven games (16 PPG, 3.6 APG).