Photo by Washington State Athletics
Cal Basketball

Bears, Cougars Meet in Battle of the Basement

January 16, 2019

Cal goes into Thursday night’s game at Washington State knowing that this is likely the last best chance to secure a conference win before the penultimate weekend of the regular season.

Washington State is thinking the same thing.

The Cougars (7-9, 0-3 Pac-12) and the Bears (5-11. 0-4) are right were most predictors thought they would be, at the bottom of the conference standings. They see each other again in late February in Berkeley and both will be heavy underdogs in every game between Thursday and then.

WSU has lost six straight and a lot of the problems are traceable to the absence of forward Robert Franks (3, above) whose 22.1 points per game average would be tops in the conference if he had played enough games. The 6-7 senior has missed the last four games with a hip injury, but is likely to play Thursday night.

He will make a difference.

“He’s one of the better players in our conference,” Cal coach Wyking Jones said on a conference call this week. “He gives them a guy that can score at a high level. … He does a little bit of everything. He can post up, he can get to the rim.” He can also shoot from the outside as Cal learned first hand last year. In the meeting in Pullman a year ago, Franks set a WSU record by hitting ten three-pointers (in 13 attempts) as he scored a career high 34.

He also is the team’s top rebounder, averaging 7.9 boards.

Franks had initially declared for last year’s NBA draft, but before the selection process began he pulled his name from consideration and announced his return to WSU for his senior season.

Without him the Cougars have struggled. They were still leading the conference in field goal percentage before last weekend when they went into Colorado and Utah and took a double whipping by a combined score of 180-130. The usually accurate Cougs were a 44-for-121 (36.3 per cent) from the floor including a ghastly 7-for-42 (16.7 percent) from three-point range.

“The shooting night has nothing to do with their defense, it has everything to do with us taking ourselves out of rhythm,” Washington State coach Ernie Kent said after the loss at Utah. “We got off to a good start this game, and then shot after shot we started letting off tough shots, not reading, not sharing the ball.”

Jones had a similar take. “They just never could find a rhythm against Utah,” Jones said. “ They never seemed to get it going, like I’ve seen them in other games. Utah is a tough place to play. They are a very good home team, everybody knows that in our conference. Everybody knows when you go the mountains  it is going to be a tough road trip.”

In Franks” absence freshman forward CJ Elleby has taken over the scoring load. He averages 16 points a game, and had 21 against Utah 20 in the second half. However has run into foul trouble in recent games.

Even with Franks’ return the Cougs lost quite a few players from last year’s 12-19 team and Kent bolstered his roster with several JC transfers.  Two of them, Ahmed Ali and Jervae Robinson have split the point guard duties with Ali having started nine games and Robinson five.

Sophomore JC transfer, Marvin Cannon leads the Pac-12 with a  91.2 (52-57) percentage from the free throw line, ninth in the nation. He has scored in double figures in four of WSU’s last eight games, including a career-high 23 against Rider, Dec. 17 and is averaging 7.1 points per game.

The Cougs, who swept the Bears in two games last year, are returning home for the first time since Dec. 19. They played Santa Clara on Dec. 29 in Spokane and then their first three conference games on the road.

Jones cautioned that they can be dangerous. “They are just a team you have to contain from the three-point line,” he said. “If they’re hitting shots it is going to be a very long night. You have to make sure you contain and don’t let them get going from the three-point line.


Washington Up Next


Things get tougher for the Bears this weekend. On Saturday they visit Washington in Seattle. The Huskies, who are 12-4, 3-0 heading into Thursday night’s game against Stanford, are one of three teams, along with Oregon State and Arizona, unbeaten in the conference. Head coach Mike Hopkins, conference Coach of the Year in first season last year, has kept the success rolling. They have won six straight games and are a perfect 8-0 at home,

They are doing it with defense, giving up just 65,9 points per game (second in the conference). Just getting a shot off against UW is difficult. The Huskies average 6.4 blocks and 8.2 steals per game. Hopkins, who spent two decades as an assistant at Syracuse, brought Jim Boeheim’s zone defense to Seattle with good results.

Forward Matisse Thybulle, the 6-5 leaper from nearby Issaquah, Wash., is averaging 2.3 blocks and his career total of 139 blocks is fourth all-time at UW. He also averages 2.6 steals.

Sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell, who was the team’s top scorer a year ago, again is the leader, averaging 16.1.  Washington has had six different players lead the team in scoring through 16 games: Nowell seven times, David Crisp (1), Noah Dickerson (5), J, Dominic Green (1), Naz Carter (2) and Thybulle (2)

Crisp is averaging 18.7 points in the three conference games. He is hitting 50 percent  from the field (16-of-32), 66.7 percent from three-point range (12-of-18) and dishing out 3.0 assists with 1.7 steals


The Bears


Jones in an attempt to shake up the Bears, said he will not decide a starting lineup until Thursday morning. He put the Bears on notice that going into this week, no one was guaranteed a starting spot.

Whoever practices the best, gets to start. “I will pick the guys who are playing the best by position,” he said.

He added that point guard Paris Austin, who missed two games with a high ankle sprain and returned against Arizona on Saturday, seems completely. “He was moving just fine,” Jones said.  


Discussion from...

Bears, Cougars Meet in Battle of the Basement

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The ESPN Matchup Predictor gives the Cougars a 77% chance of prevailing over the Bears.
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The Bears will get swept in Washington this week. They have the look of a team that has given up. Wyking Jones needs to be fired immediately.
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Not going to happen.
Last year is over,” Fox said. “Today we start to fight forward. We build for greater days.”
Konstantin Bosnic
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