* Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)
A crowd of more than 11,000 will be on hand at Haas Pavilion to watch Cal take on No. 23 UCLA, and maybe that will provide more motivation than . . . a large pepperoni?
Asked this week whether a 76-64 loss at Pauley Pavilion last month will fuel the Bears, coach Mike Montgomery laughed and suggested, “Our guys, pizza fuels them.”
In other words, he can’t always get a read on when this team will be ready to burst from the chute, fired up to play.
“I would think that just given how poorly we played on that L.A. weekend,” he said, “there would be some kind of `we can play better than that’ thought process.
“Getting the road sweep (in Washington) puts us back in the conversation, there should be some excitement from that. UCLA’s very good.
Senior Justin Cobbs wants to assure his coach the Bears will be ready.
“It’s time to play,” he said. “We’re fighting for a Pac-12 championship now. If you don’t have a little fire under you, something is wrong. We’ll come out aggressive.
“We know the importance of this game.”
With wins at Washington State and Washington, Cal (17-8, 8-4) has moved into a tie for third place with Arizona State, just one game back of second-place UCLA (20-5, 9-3). The Bears are just two games behind Pac-12 leader Arizona.
Certainly the players ought to have a bad taste in their mouths from their performance in Los Angeles. They lost 77-69 at USC — still the only conference victory by the last-place Trojans — and failed to shoot 40 percent in either loss.
At UCLA, the Bears converted a season-low 34.5 percent and had their poorest 3-point shooting outing (19.0 percent) of any game in which they attempted at least 10 from beyond the arc.
The Bruins are better known for their offense (83.1 ppg) than defense, but Cobbs said UCLA was the aggressor in the first meeting.
“Last time they were a little more physical than us. They kind of pushed us around,” he said. “We can’t let that happen again.”
“We’ve got to match it,” sophomore guard Tyrone Wallace added. “A lot of times there was stuff we thought should be called. But if it’s not called, you’ve got to adjust the way you play and you’ve got to do those things, too, We’ve just got to fight back.”
The Bruins present myriad challenges, starting with 6-foot-9 sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson, whose set of season statistics — 15.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.6 steals per game — makes him “without question” a serious contender for Pac-12 Player of the Year, according to Montgomery.
The 6-5 Wallace drew the primary defensive assignment against Anderson and struggled to contain him. As usual, Anderson filled the box score: 17 points, 12 rebounds, five assists.
“It’s a tough assignment, but I’m looking forward to it,” Wallace said. “I didn’t play so well against the L.A. schools, so I’m looking forward to going out there, being aggressive, playing well and getting these wins.”
Anderson also brings versatility to the floor. When the Bruins sub and move Bryce Alford to the point, the Bruins often switch to a zone defense and Anderson slides to the power forward spot.