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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Time to impress the NCAA committee

    Arizonas Ivan Radenovic splits Californias Ayinde Ubaka, left, and Ryan Anderson as he goes for a layup during the Wildcats 94-85 win over the Golden Bears Dec. 28 in Tucson. Radenovic and the Wildcats will have their hands full with Cals perimeter shooting, ranked No. 2 in the conference in 3-pointers made.
    Arizona’s Ivan Radenovic splits California’s Ayinde Ubaka, left, and Ryan Anderson as he goes for a layup during the Wildcats’ 94-85 win over the Golden Bears Dec. 28 in Tucson. Radenovic and the Wildcats will have their hands full with Cal’s perimeter shooting, ranked No. 2 in the conference in 3-pointers made.

    Coming into the season, California head coach Ben Braun knew he would have to find a way to replace the production of All-Pacific 10 Conference performer Leon Powe, who left for the NBA Draft.

    But his task became even tougher when center DeVon Hardin did not return after suffering a stress fracture in his left foot Dec. 19, and fellow center Jordan Wilkes tore his patella tendon during a preseason practice and has missed the entire year.

    Enter freshman forward Ryan Anderson, a sweet-shooting big man who is the only player to rank among the conference’s top five in scoring (fifth, 16.5 points per game) and rebounding (fifth, 8.0).

    “”There’s been a lot on his shoulders, and I think he’s lived up to all the challenges that he’s had this year, and he’s had a great year for us,”” Braun said. “”He’s helped keep our team very competitive, so his contributions for our team have really been significant.

    “”I don’t think anybody’s contributed as much to their team as a freshman as Ryan’s contributed for ours.””

    While Wilkes was supposed to be one of the top Bears off the bench, the loss of Hardin hurt the most. The junior Hardin, a candidate to leave for the NBA after this season before the injury, averaged 10.7 points and a team-high 8.4 rebounds in his first 11 games, while providing an interior presence by blocking almost two shots per contest.

    “”I think if you look at any team in the league that lost their best player, and particularly when it’s an inside guy like that who’s depended on for defense, blocking shots, rebounding, that was a huge loss,”” UA head coach Lute Olson said.

    Said Cal guard Ayinde Ubaka: “”That’s where we’re lacking right now, an inside presence.””

    Although Hardin is 10 weeks into the rehab of an injury with an original prognosis of missing eight to 12 weeks, Braun said even a return for next week’s Pac-10 Tournament is a “”long shot”” because Hardin has yet to practice and must show he can handle practice’s rigors before getting game time.

    “”It’s something that we’re holding hope that he might be able to do, but I just think it’s a stretch right now,”” Braun said.

    Cal’s defense has suffered without Hardin because Braun’s defense is normally anchored by a big man at the basket, he said. The Bears, normally among the conference’s top defenses, rank ninth in field-goal percentage defense (46.6) and eighth in scoring defense (70.3).

    “”The offense is there,”” Ubaka said, “”we just have to stop people on the defensive end.””

    The Bears have made up for their defensive deficiencies on the other end of the court. Ubaka said there is “”no doubt”” it is the best shooting team he’s played on in college. All of Cal’s rotation players can knock down 3-pointers, with the squad draining a school-record 212 long shots, and leading the nation in free-throw shooting at 77.7 percent.

    “”It’s not a team that you can zone well because they have a lot of good outside shooters,”” Olson said.

    With Cal’s lack of size, the Bears are forced to play with four wings and Anderson at the post, meaning every player is a perimeter threat. That opens up driving lanes for Cal penetrators, Ubaka said.

    Arizona will also have to contend with a Cal team without any chance of sneaking into the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid. That means this Bears squad, which was the conference’s third-best last year, has the chance to play spoiler against Arizona.

    “”Cal’s got nothing to lose,”” UA forward Chase Budinger said. “”They’re just going to come out and play with a lot of confidence and not worry about any pressure on them. It’s going to be a tough game because they’re going to come out firing on all cylinders.””

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