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Cal Basketball

WSU Preview: Cougs Won't Be Easy in the Palouse

February 17, 2021

The Cal men’s basketball team concludes the road portion of the season this weekend in the Northwest. The Bears (8-15, 3-13 Pac-12) first take on Washington State (12-10, 5-10) in Pullman Thursday night. Then it’s on to Seattle and a Saturday night encounter with Washington (4-16, 3-12).

These games involve the bottom three teams in the conference standings, so the last-place Bears, who are coming off one of their bigger wins in years, have a chance to climb over the two teams immediately in front of them. The Bears broke a 7-game losing streak on Saturday when they knocked off NCAA Tournament hopeful Colorado.

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Jalen Celestine (32) provided a much-needed scoring effort with a career-high 13 points in Saturday's win over Colorado.

The 10th place Cougars appear to be the more difficult opponent this weekend, because they beat Cal in Berkeley last month, two nights after the Bears downed the Huskies. That logic is turned on its head by the fact that on Monday UW went into Pullman and beat WSU. Go figure.

The Cougars were missing leading scorer and sparkplug Isaac Bonton, who had injured an ankle against USC last Sunday. That disadvantage was offset by the fact the Huskies were also without their leading scorer, Quade Green, who according to the Huskies has an “illness”. Washington did not reveal the name of his malady, saying only that it was not COVID. 

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Bonton helped from the court

Cal head coach Mark Fox is taking no comfort in the fact both stars have been sidelined. The preparation for Thursday’s game is preceding as if Bonton will play. For Fox this season that is SOP.

“It is so crazy this year,” Fox said in a Zoom interview this week. “Like before our Stanford game when half-hour before (pregame) practice we lose two starters. 

“And when a guy doesn’t play it’s a surprise, but then it’s not. It’s almost expected disruption. Sometimes it’s COVID sometimes it’s other things.  But you just prepare like they’re going to have everybody. Then when the game starts you figure out who’s in uniform and on the court.”

He leads the Cougars in scoring, and their offense stalled repeatedly without him against Washington. 

“He’s a really dynamic scorer because he can shoot, he scores off the bounce, he keeps pressure on the defense at all times,” Fox said. “He’s playing with unbelievable confidence and a really green light.”

The Cougars have two 6-10 freshmen, Efie Abogidi (above)  from Nigeria and DiShon Jackson from Vallejo.

Abogidi is just beginning to figure out how good he is. “I don’t know how to pronounce his name, but he might be the most dynamic athlete of all the frontline players in the league,” Fox said. “He made (3-of-4)  3-point shots against us. I think he’s got a really a dynamic level of talent, like next-level ability. He has been really impactful on their team.”

Abogidi averages 8.9 points per game. Almost as vital as his scoring is the way, he, along with Jackson, clog up the middle. Abogidi has 32 blocked shots. Couple that with Jackson’s 16 rejections and you have a lot of opponents’ shots that lost their way.

“Both of those kids have been productive,” Fox said. “I think it helps them both that they have a senior guard (Bonton), who knows how to get a basket when they need one. Kyle (head coach Smith) has done a good job educating his team where to get those guys the ball. They are obviously off to a good start.”

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Noah Williams

Bonton’s running mate in the backcourt, sophomore Noah Williams, has been bothered by injuries in both his WSU seasons. But he is second on the team in scoring at 12.5 ppg, and hits 39.3 percent of his 3-point shots.

WSU Notes

  • Cal leads the overall series, 82-52, and even holds a one victory edge, 32-31, in Pullman.
  • In the Cougars’ 71-60 victory over the Bears in January, they outrebounded the home team 45-25.
  • Bonton, who scored 22 points in the first game against Cal, has scored 20-plus points in four of the last six games.
  • Jackson has scored in double figures the last two games.
  • Agobidi is one of seven foreign players on the WSU roster. 
  • Aljaz Kunc, a 6-8 junior from Slovenia, is a productive player off the bench. In his last five games, he is averaging 11,0 points and 5.0 rebounds.
  • Wazzu is equally comfortable playing zone or man-to-man defense. The Cougars rank 94th in the country in scoring defense allowing 67.5 points per game and 96th in defensive rating at 96.1 per 100 possessions. They allow teams to shoot just 40.8 per cent from the floor, 59th in the nation. 
  • Cal shot just 34.5 percent against WSU in the first game
    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
    Green Goes Up for 2


Washington Notes

  • Before facing Cal, UW hosts Stanford on Thursday.
  • The Huskies lead the all-time series with Cal, 87-82.
  • Green, who averages 15.3 points per game, had played in the first 19 games before sitting on Monday. He was on the bench and did not look ill on television. The transfer from Kentucky missed 17 games last year because of academic issues.
  • With Green sidelined sophomore Marcus Tsohonis recorded his fifth 20-point scoring effort of the season with a career-high 29 at WSU, He won it with a bucket at the buzzer.
  • Tsohonis is second on the team in scoring, averaging 10.9 ppg. He has started only twice this season, including Monday.
  • UW dished out 15 assists on 25 made FGs at WSU, its most assists of the season.
  • Junior Erik Stevenson had one of his best nights as a Husky against the Cougs as he scored 18 points and added a team-high seven rebounds while dishing out seven assists, the most by a Husky this season.
  • The Huskies knocked down ten 3-pointers against UCLA on Saturday. That was the eighth time in conference play they have hit nine or more.
  • Redshirt sophomore Nate Roberts is currently 12th in the league in rebounding, averaging 5.9 per game.
  • Junior Jamal Bey leads the league in 3-point FG percentage at 53.1 and is first in Pac-12 games in shooting 53.7 percent (22-of-41).

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