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Cal Basketball

ASU Brings Nation's Top Backcourt to Haas

December 2, 2020

Cal certainly doesn’t need to open its conference basketball season this way. The Bears, whose postseason and training camp preparations were interrupted by Berkeley’s strict COVID protocols, have looked like a team that is still finding its way. 

The Bears (2-1) are picked for tenth in the Pac-12 and have already lost to one of the teams predicted to finish below them. Oregon State, whom the media consigned to last place in the preseason conference poll, handled the Bears, 71-63, in that non-league encounter. The Bears’ two victories, both over lesser foes, were hardly impressive.

So who do the Bears draw in their first two conference games? Arizona State, whom the experts tab as either one or two in the league predictions. The game tips off at 7 p.m. in Haas Pavillion.

The other top-of-the-heap team is UCLA, and guess who the Bears play in Game 2 on Sunday. That’s right, the Bruins. That game is in Pauley Pavillion.

Arizona State is also 2-1, but their ledger is more impressive. They beat Rhode Island and lost to No. 3 Villanova in Connecticut, then obliterated Houston Baptist at home.

The Sun Devils boast what most experts feel is the top backcourt in the nation. It took a bit of a hit last weekend when guard Alonzo Verge, Jr., last season’s Sixth Man of the Year in the conference who started the first two games, was declared out of the Houston Baptist game and will not play Thursday night.

Head coach Bobby Hurley would not say why specifically, but what he didn’t say pointed to a COVID-19 issue. The senior is averaging 15.0 points and 5.5 rebounds.

If anyone has the depth to overcome a loss like that it’s ASU. Verge was one of three guards Hurley started the first two games. The others are preseason All-American Remy Martin and freshman whiz Josh Christopher.

Martin briefly considered entering the NBA draft this season and the Bears wish he hadn’t changed his mind. In his three career games at Haas he is 20-31 (.645) from the field, 10-12 (.833) from the three-point stripe, has 16 assists and averages 19.7 points. 

Last season he scored at a 19.1 ppg clip, but this year deferring to Christopher and Marcus Bagley, another hot-shot freshman. Martin’s scoring is down to 15,7 per game. He does however lead the team in assists.

“He’s not threatened by the success of others and you can see it in by how he’s playing. He’s really focused on distributing the basketball and getting his teammates involved,” Hurley said of Martin.

“Down the stretch, he’s proven that he can make plays in big games and close teams out. I think he’s got a really good approach to what he’s doing right now. He’s told the team that he’s not about statistics and scoring. He’s already been one of the top scorers in the Pac-12, he doesn’t have to prove that again. He just wants to win and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win.”

Christopher, whose older brother Patrick starred at Cal a decade ago, was one of the top prospects in the nation coming out of high school. So far he is living up to the hype as he leads the Sun Devils in scoring at 18.7 points per game. He was the conference Player of the Week last week and if he keeps up this pace could retire that award.

Bagley, a 6-7 forward, would be the talk of most recruiting classes. Only the presence of Christopher eclipses Bagley's luster. The brother of Sacramento Kings forward Marvin Bagley, he is also off to a fast start in college, He has averaged 15.7 points and 5.3 rebounds.

Another newcomer is guard Holland Woods, a transfer from Portland State. His initial plan was to redshirt this season and take over for Martin next year. But when the NCAA said this season would not cost eligibility, he opted in. “Holland has been very solid and very reliable and very dependable,” Hurley said. “He just fits into what we do very well. He makes the right play.”

© Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Martin Scores Against Bears

The Sun Devils like to play at a frenetic pace, rarely use the entire 30 seconds they are allotted to take a shot, and average 89.3 points a game, second-best in the Pac-12. FIve of them average in double figures (Christopher, Bagley, Martin, Verge and Kamani Lawrence). The latter has appeared in just one game but made the most of it.

As a team, ASU is third in the league in field goal percentage at 47.6 (89-for-187) and third in three-point field goal percentage at 37.3 (28-for-75).

Defense is another story. ASU gives up 82.7 points per game and has been outrebounded by six per game. In a move to address the latter stat, Hurley went with forward Taeshon Cherry to start in Verge’s place against Houston Baptist. Cherry finished with five points and just  two rebounds. However, that game was such a blowout early that the numbers don’t mean much.

Star forward Morello White transferred to Ole Miss, leaving a hole that was supposed to be filled by Jalen Graham. However 6-9 Chris Osten has taken many of the minutes at the position. “He’s blue-collar,” Hurley said. “Gritty. Tough. He’s a guy that’s getting on the floor for a loose ball. In one of our scrimmages, intra-squad, he had nine offensive rebounds. He’s got a motor.” 

In 24 minutes against Rhode Island, the junior forward had four points, six rebounds and three blocked shots,

Overall, sounding a lot like Cal coach Mark Fox, Hurley said the Sun Devils still have quite a few rough edges.

He used Villanova as an example of what his team needs to be but is not yet.

“(Villanova} felt like a well-oiled machine in that game,” Hurley said. “Whereas we’re still searching a little bit, still trying to find an identity, still learning to play together.

Bowser’s Condition: Cal freshman forward Monty Bowser, who took a nasty fall in the win over Nicholls State Monday night, was released after a short stay at a hospital and is “doing fine”: according to a Cal spokesman. There was no word on his availability for Thursday.

Related Stories:

Bears Pull It Together Late in 60-49 win over Nicholls State

Basketball Preview: Bears Must Make Up for Lost Practice Time




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Holding ASU to a ten-point win will be a major accomplishment.
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