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Cal Basketball

Cal Opens Pac-12 Play Against Struggling LA Schools

January 2, 2019

Cal’s showing in the non-conference portion of theschedule has not been what the Bears hoped. A 5-7 record is not what the Bears were looking for.

However, they are not the only Pac-12 team that has been disappointing, and Cal takes on two of the most obvious examples in its first two conference games, starting Thursday night at USC.

The Trojans, who finished second in the league a year ago and were picked to wind up in the upper half of the standings this time, are just 7-6 and endured a four-game losing streak before routing a couple of unimpressive foes, Southern Utah and UC Davis.

Injuries and some internal turmoil have certainly had an effect.

Only two players, guards Jonah Mathews and Shaqquan Aaron have started all 13 games.

Five-star recruit Kevin Porter Jr., a freshman who is one of five Trojans averaging double figures in scoring (11.7) has been limited to six games with a quad contusion. He is doubtful for Thursday. Backup point guard Elijah Weaver sprained an ankle against Oklahoma Dec. 15 and hasn’t been on the court since. Sophomore guard Charles O’Bannon, has been limited to one game.

On the positive side, leading scorer Bennie Boatwright (15.0 ppg) just returned after missing two games.

“It’s been the toughest start in all my years of coaching,” head coach Andy Enfield said last week, “because of all the injuries we’ve had and the disruption of practices and games. It’s hard to prepare adequately if you don’t have enough healthy bodies in practice. It has been exceptionally challenging for all of us, but we’re not using that as an excuse, because the players that we have on our team, some are very experienced, and we have to play better as a team.”

And if the injuries weren’t enough, swingman Jordan Usher, who was suspended for the UC Davis game because of the all-encompassing sin, “violation of team rules”, announced moments later that he was transferring out of the program.

Usher, a 6-7 sophomore, had averaged 29.2 minutes a game coming off the bench. He averaged 8.6 points and 3.7 rebounds a game.

Usher was a four star guard out of Canton, Georgia a year ago and was the No. 25 shooting guard in the nation per the 247 sports composite.With his transfer of USC is now down to 10 scholarship players.

One of them, however is Nick Rakocevic (31, above), the 6-11 junior who leads the Pac-12 with an average of 10.3 rebounds per game.

“He’s very mobile,” Cal head coach Wyking Jones said. “He has a great feel, high IQ guy. He’s been around for awhile. He’s a mobile big. He’s not a plodder. He’s got good hands, good feet. If there is a rebound you need to chase down, he can do that.”

Rebounding has been an issue for the Bears, who have been outrebounded by an average of more than six per game (28.0 vs, 34.3). What particularly has been missing is any sort of  rebounding contribution from the wings and the backcourt.

“We have been addressing that,” said Jones. “It was the reason why I went with the big lineup when I inserted Connor (Vanover)  into the starting lineup, moved Dre (Andre Kelly) to the four and Justice (Sueing) to the three. I felt that was a very good lineup for us. Connor is a big, but he stretches the floor.

“Our guards do need to do a better job rebounding the basketball. I challenge Darius McNeill on a daily basis to go in there and be more physical and be willing to get hit. Be willing to possibly get hurt, go in there and fight, scrap and claw and do a better job on the boards. Pairs (Austin) is willing, he will get in there and mix it up a little bit. He had five rebounds the last game. He’s willing . But I have been challening Darius, Juhwan (Harris-Dyson) and Matt Bradley.”

Vanover, the 7-3 freshman who has missed the last three games after suffering a concussion, is expected back Thursday night.

On Saturday the Bears face UCLA, which has had even more troubles than the Trojans.  Expected to contend for the conference title, the Bruins fired head coach Steve Alford after a 7-6 start that included home losses to Belmont and Liberty. The latter, a 73-58 embarrassment was the fourth straight defeat and the last straw for athletic director Dan Guerrero. He relieved Alford of his duties and replaced him with assistant Murry Bartow. He, of course, is the son of the late Gene Bartow who was the first in a string of Bruins coaches who had the thankless job of replacing John Wooden.

The Bruins players met with the media Wednesday for the first time since Alford’s firing.

“Of course, it's going to be different,” said forward Kris Wilkes, who leads the Bruins in scoring at 17.1 points per game. “You know, different head coaches have different things that they want to incorporate. Overall, he's a great coach and he'll help us out."

UCLA will also present a challenge to Cal in the rebounding department. Through Sunday, Dec. 30, UCLA ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 in rebounding offense (42.3 rpg) and was No. 4 in the league in rebounding margin (+5.2). In addition, the Bruins ranked No. 13 in the nation (through Dec. 30) in total rebounds per game (42.2).

Freshman Moses Brown (11.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg) ranks fourth in the league in rebounds per game, while redshirt freshman Jalen Hill (2.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg) ranks No. 13 in that category. Brown, a 7-foot-1 center from Queens, N.Y., is currently tied for second in field goal percentage (66.7%) and ranks second in the league in blocks per game (2.5 bpg). Guard Jaylen Hands leads the conference in total assists (91) and assists per game (7.1).




Discussion from...

Cal Opens Pac-12 Play Against Struggling LA Schools

How long do you want to ignore this user?
Dare I knee-jerk reply suggest that those SoCal schools won't be struggling any longer after the Bears come for a visit?
How long do you want to ignore this user?
U$C looks like a team we want to get in foul trouble early. Bears need to be aggressive. Somebody on our team better foul out in the closing minutes. No holding back.
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