* 8 p.m. Wednesday at Haas Pavilion (ESPNU)
During Super Bowl week, Cal coach Mike Montgomery pulled out a baseball analogy to describe the strengths of the Arizona State basketball team his Golden Bears will face Wednesday night.
“It’s like baseball — take care of the middle, you’re probably in pretty good shape in terms of catcher, pitcher, center fielder,” he said. “It’s the same thing with big guy and point guard. And they’ve got that.”
In 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski and uber-quick point guard Jahii Carson the Sun Devils (15-5, 4-3 Pac-12) present the Bears (14-6, 5-2) with a formidable 1-2 punch.
Bachynski leads the nation in blocked shots with 88 – an average of 4.4 per game. He has blocked at least two shots in all but one of ASU’s games (he played just 27 minutes in a rout that night) and has fouled out just once.
Montgomery said the impact of any shot-blocker extends beyond the mere numbers.
“How many shots is he changing? How many shots are you going in there aware of him and all of a sudden you change what you do because you’re afraid to get a shot blocked?” Montgomery said.
The answer, Montgomery said, is not to shy away from the big Canadian.
“You’ve got to to in, make a play, create contact, go to the basket with the idea of scoring,” Montgomery said. “If he blocks it, there’s still a chance you can get the ball back.
“It’s no more than that but sometimes, psychologically, it becomes more than that because guys get gun shy.”
Cal senior Richard Solomon — giving up four inches and at least 15 pounds — will draw the assignment against the much-improved Bachynski.
“He’s big. He’s a presence. We’re just going to have to be physical and play to our strengths,” Solomon said. “I take it personal just because I’m a competitor.”
Solomon leads the Pac-12 in rebounding at 10.6 per game, ahead of Bachynski with 9.1 per game.
Montgomery believes Solomon can do more.
“We were in practice yesterday and coach said there’s no reason I shouldn’t be getting 20 rebounds a game. I agree with him,” Solomon said. “I’m going to get 20.”
Fellow senior Justin Cobbs also has a big assignment in Carson, who averages 18.4 points and 4.6 assists.
Montgomery believes Cobbs is up to the task.
“Justin has done a really good job, he’s accepted a challenge defensively,” Montgomery said. “He’s one of our better defenders. He’s strong and he does have good quickness. That’s a natural matchup for him.”
But Carson’s quickness and the new emphasis on preventing hand-checking by defenders makes Cobbs’ job tougher still.
“He creates a lot of fouls by jumping into you,” Montgomery said of Carson. “It’s troubling in terms of trying to figure out how these calls are going to be made. Who creates the contact and who was where?”
Montgomery said coaches received an officiating memo this week that provided an update on the way the game is being called.
“It talked about how the defender should not be penalized for being in a normal guarding position,” he said. “But there’s a lot of difficulty interpreting what this thing’s supposed to be about. It’s frustrating for everybody.
“You’ve got to stay in front of him and you’re going to need help, yet you can’t over-commit to allow him to make others better players.”
“But you can see situations where (Carson is) driving and the (defender) has been kind of moving along laterally, and all of a sudden it’s almost like a surprise to the defender — he just jumps in. It’s almost like you have to disappear.
“And he’s gotten some calls. Anybody smart would take advantage of that.”