Cal has won a school record 27 straight home games. Prolonging that streak will be difficult.
Virginia, which has used a stingy defense to get itself ranked 12th in the country, comes to Haas Pavilion Wednesday night. The Bears have not seen a defense like this one for awhile, or at least since last season when they dropped a 63-62 overtime decision to UVA in Charlottesville.
Virginia is allowing opponents just 47.1 points per game, best figure in the country and they have held nine opponents to 55 points or fewer.
"They play strictly man defense," said Cal coach Cuonzo Martin. "They don't use zone and they don't press. They make you work for every basket, they make you work to get the ball inside. They do a good job recovering. You've got to execute your offense. If you don't execute your offense it is going to be a long night."
Virginia head coach Tony Bennett is in his seventh season at Charlotsville, and uses the defensive principles he learned from his father, Tony, Sr., long-time coach at Wisconsin-Green Bay. The younger Bennett not only studied his father, he played for him.
"I've watched Tony Bennett for years," Martin said. "When I was a freshman in college (Purdue) we played Wisconsin-Green Bay when Tony was a senior. They beat us. They were physical, they were tough. His dad kind of originated the pack line defense."
The Cavs have what Martin describes as "big, physical guys" who can guard the rim, notably 6-11 Jack Salt, a sophomore from New Zealand and 6-9 freshman Mamadi Diakite, a freshman from Guinea.
"They've got guys that can block shots, but I wouldn't say that's what their strength is," Martin said. "They do other things. But they have guys that can alter shots around the rim."
Offensively the Cavs average 71.2 points per game, a figure almost identical to Cal's 72.5.
"They get a lot of credit for their defense, but they are one of the best offensive teams in the country, with their efficiency, how they execute their offense," Martin said. "They are probably one of the better teams at sharing the basketball as well. There are a lot of guys they can really count on for production offensively. They are a sound group.
"They run when they can, but mainly they just execute their offense." The Cavaliers, who shoot 51 per cent from the floor, take few poor shots.
The Cavs do not have a scorer averaging double figures. Their leader at 9.6 points per game is senior guard London Perrantes. Cal fans remember him as the player who hit the buzzer beating three-point shot that won last year's game. Right behind him is backcourt mate Marial Shayok at 9.6. The Cavs do have nine players who average at least 5.7 ppg.
"That's who we are right now," Bennett told the local media when asked about the lack of a high-ranking scorer. "We just have to take what we have. We've got to find ways to manufacture scoring. We do not have a guy where you can say he is going to get 20 tonight, or 15 or 16. But the balance I think is good, and that's what's different about this team. And I think as the competition increases we are going to learn more about ourselves."
The Cavaliers lost All-American guard Malcolm Brogdon (18.2 ppg last year) and forward Anthony Gill (13.8) off the 2015-16 squad. They had hoped to partially make up for it with 6-9 Austin Nichols a transfer from Memphis State, who had to sit out last year because of transfer rules.
But Nichols quickly ran afoul of Bennett's rules. He was suspended for a preseason exhibition and the season opener. He returned for the second game, scoring 11 points in six minutes. But two days later Bennett booted him from the team.
"It's a privilege to be a part of this program, and Austin has lost that privilege," Bennett said. "We have standards for our student-athletes, and when those standards aren't met there are consequences. ... This is the unfortunate consequence."
In last year's game, Cal played probably its best defensive 20 minutes of the year, holding Virginia to 18 per cent shooting in the first half and built a seven-point lead. Virginia came back and tied it at the end of regulation and won in overtime.
Martin is getting familiar with Virginia and Bennett.
"This is my fourth year as a head coach playing against them," he said. "My last two years at Tennessee we played them, and then last year. So we're familiar with what they do and they do a great job of it."
- Last year's was the first meeting between the two schools.
- Bennett's father's Wisconsin-Green Bay team upset Cal with Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray in the NCAA Tournament in 1994.
- Virginia has been ranked in 52 consecutive AP polls since Feb. 3, 2014. The Cavaliers have finished in the top 10 (No. 3 in 2014 & No. 6 in 2015 and No. 4 in 2016) in the final AP rankings in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1981.