Up next for the Cal men, which has just welcomed back a key performer from injury, is Washington, which has just lost an important player.
The Huskies (8-7, 1-2 Pac-12) already mired in the mediocrity that has characterized head coach Lorenzo Romar's recent years, learned this week that their shot blocking machine Malik Dime is out four to five weeks because of a broken finger. Dime, a 6-9 senior who last year set the school's season record with 88 blocks and has 39 this year, injured the digit in the 87-61 victory over Oregon State last weekend.
Immediately after the game, Romar said that Dime, injured in a collision with superstar freshman guard Markelle Fultz, had sustained a sprain and would miss no games. But Tuesday he said the diagnosis had changed to a fracture.
"It's one of those situations where he would be in too much pain," Romar told the Seattle media. "He could probably injure someone else because he'd have to be casted probably to play. A regular soft splint wouldn't protect it. If there was a way around it, we'd do it. Everything was explored."
This is a devastating blow to the Huskies, who already allow 79 points per game, next to last in the conference. One thing they do well on defense is block shots; they average 6.6 deflections per game, good for second in the league.
Freshman forward Sam Timmins, a 6-11 native of New Zealand, is likely to take Dime's spot in the starting lineup, alongside forward Noah Dickerson. A strong and mobile highly-regarded recruit, Timmins started seven games earlier in the season but has been coming off the bench lately. Matthew Atewe, a 6-8 transfer from Auburn whose transition into the Huskies program has not been smooth, also figures to get more playing time.
None rivals Dime as a rim protector.
Offensively the Huskies are a different story. "They can score the ball," Cal coach Cuonzo Martin said this week. "They are putting up 80 plus (83.9) points a game. They have an elite point guard (Fultz). They have, I think, three guys shooting 40 plus percent from the three-point line, maybe four (only if you count seldom-used Dan Kingman's 1-for-2). They have athletic bigs, they have length, they make plays."
They are efficient from long-range. They average 41.4 per cent from beyond the arc as a team, eighth in the NCAA and first in the conference. Guard David Crisp (40-for-90, 44.4 per cent), Matisse Thybulle (22-for-50, 44.0 per cent) and Fultz (61-for-92, 43.5 per cent) are the primary marksmen.
Fultz is the cornerstone of the offense. A 6-4, a five-star recruit out of Maryland, he was courted by the likes of Arizona and Louisville coming out of high school. He leads the Pac-12 in scoring at 22.1 points per game, is second in assists per game, 2.4, and has drawn favorable comparisons to Washington icon Brandon Roy.
Able to get a shot off the dribble, slash to the basket or find an open teammate with equal aplomb, Fultz is generally projected to be the first player taken in this spring's NBA draft. His stay in Seattle is likely to be short.
His back court running mate, 6-0 sophomore Crisp, averages 14.1 ppg and has scored double digits in the last seven games. He was particularly effective against OSU, scoring 14 points and dishing out ten assists.
"David is really starting to emerge as a leader on this team," Romar said after the game. "You can just see it. It's been good to see him do that. It's been good for our team."
What was also good for the team was the full-court press that triggered a 12-0 run early in the game and put the Beavers in a hole they could never climb out of.
That tactic could give the Bears some trouble.
Romar's future in Seattle is uncertain. The longest serving coach in the Pac-12, the one-time UW star is in his 15th year leading the Huskies. He has had no trouble attracting top-level talent, Fultz is the most recent example, but lately has been unable to do much with it. He has led the Huskies to the NCAA Tournament six times, three times making the sweet 16. But they haven't been to the NCAA's since 2011, nor have they had a winning conference record since 2012. This despite sending several players into the NBA.
The Huskies faithful might be grumbling, but Romar does have some job security in the fact that he has a commitment from 6-11 prospect Michael Porter, Jr., son of one of Romar's assistant coaches. The younger Porter is generally regarded as the recruiting prize of 2017. A second son, high school junior Jontay, has also promised himself to the Huskies.
As for the Bears (11-5, 2-2), they welcomed back center Kameron Rooks last weekend. The 7-foot junior missed ten games because of knee surgery. He played a few minutes in the loss to UCLA, but was a substantial factor in the victory over USC.
He contributed four points and six rebounds in 14 minutes, but his impact went beyond the stat sheet.
"The great thing about Kam is that he puts pressure on you, even on offense when he's posting up." Martin said. "You have to box him out. Now he's getting his conditioning back by playing in actual games.
"With Kam's presence around the rim now there's a level of relief for Ivan (Rabb) and Kingsley (Okoroh). When it was just those two guys it was tough. They competed and did the best job they could, but playing so many minutes takes a physical toll. So to have Kam back for that alone has been great."
Washington leads the all-time series 83-78. Romar is 12-16.
Fultz has scored 20 or more points 11 times in 15 games. He leads all NCAA freshmen in scoring.
Thybulle leads the league in steals at 2.1 per game. Fultz is third at 1.7. The team had 11 steals against Oregon State.
The Huskies have shot better than 50 per cent from the field in seven of their 15 games.
Cal would be well-advised to get itself a lead. UW is 8-0 when leading with five minutes left in the game.
Dickerson is averaging nearly a double-double 11.0 points and 9.4 rebounds since moving into the starting lineup 11 games ago. He has hit 40 of his last 49 free throw attempts.