Cal Basketball

Who Knows What Bears Will Find in the Desert

February 28, 2018

In its final regular season road trip Cal heads to Arizona to take on Arizona State in Tempe Thursday night and U of A in Tucson Saturday. Usually this late in the season opponents are not much of mystery, especially if you have already played them. But in neither case this time do the Bears know what to expect.

Arizona, of course, is smack dab in the middle of the seamy allegations coming from the FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting practices. The Bears can’t be sure how the fallout from it all will affect the Wildcats. Nor did they even know for sure who the opposing head coach will be until Thursday night.

But before Arizona the Bears meet ASU, and no one can be certain which Sun Devil team awaits.

 Will it be the one that took everyone by surprise when it went 12-0 in non-conference games,climbing from nowhere to fourth in the AP Poll?

Or will it be the one that started conference play 0-2 and has sputtered since? The Sun Devils did not win consecutive conference games until a three game win streak two weeks ago. then they promptly lost three straight and sit at 19-9 overall, 7-9 in league play.

Coach Bobby Hurley’s outfit has been as inconsistent as anyone in the country.

A look at this week’s Cal opponents

ASU: The Sun Devils preseason record was no mirage. Included were wins over Xavier and Kansas (on the road). Then they just hit a wall, or least a hurdle. They haven’t been getting blown out, none of the defeats are by more than nine points and five are by four or fewer. Still, losses are losses, and now the Sun Devils can be no better than an eighth seed in the conference tournament.

Leading scorer Tra Holder averaged 21.3 points in the non-conference season, hitting 46.3 per cent from the floor. In conference play his average is only 16.9 and his field goal percentage just 38.1 In the loss to Oregon on Feb.22 he whiffed, going 0-for-6 from the floor and scoring zero points as the Ducks really clamped down on him.

Cal did a respectable defensive job on him in the first meeting, an 81-73 ASU win, limiting him to 13 points. However , seven Sun Devils scored at least seven points that night.

Holder resurfaced against Oregon State on Saturday, even though ASU lost. He was 7-dfor-15 from the floor and totaled 23 points. However, he and guard Kodi Justice (above) with 12 were the only ASU players in double figures as OSU prevailed 79-75.

Justice, in fact has been ASU’s most consistent player all year. The senior guard is the one of two  Sun Devil who hails from Arizona, and he is mighty happy to be there.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always been at ASU games, football and basketball. I was always around ASU,” Justice told the ASU media.. “So it was kind of like a dream for me to be able to stay home and be in front of friends and family. When I was offered (a scholarship)...I knew it was where I wanted to go and I committed the next day.”

Shannon Evans II is the Devils’ second-leading scorer (16.8 ppg) and he is most prolific three-point shooter in the Pac-12. His 221 attempts and 82 successes are both tops in the league from beyond the arc. He is tied for second in free throw percentage at 87.4.

After using 6-7 transfer Mickey Mitchell as a starter much of the year, Hurley has been starting 6-9 Vitaliy Shibel, with Mitchell coming off the bench. Mitchell is usually on the floor longer.

Remy Martin, a 6-0 guard, averages 9.0 ppg and provides a spark off the bench,

Probably because of the large number of seniors, ASU takes very good care of the basketball. Their turnover margin of plus 3.80 is the league’s best. Their average of 83.5 ppg is tops in the league.

Hurley’s wallet is $10,000 lighter after the Pac-12 fined him for berating the officials following the Oregon State loss. He not only yelled at them from the bench, he followed them off the floor following the game. That might play well in Tempe, but it was not appreciated in Corvallis nor in the Pac-12 offices.

ARIZONA: Last week was probably the worst of head coach Sean Miller’s professional life. First he learned that star guard Allonzo Trier was suspended indefinitely for testing positive for a banned substance. Then ESPN published a story saying Miller had been caught on a wiretap discussing a possible $100,000 payment to star freshman DeAndre Ayton.

I won’t go into all the details here, only to say that some holes have been discovered in the ESPN story and that Miller said he expected to be “totally vindicated”.   Miller did not coach the Wildcats against Oregon last Saturday, a game the Cats lost in overtime. But after meeting with university authorities on Thursday, he was reinstated and coached Thursday's win over Stanford. In two press conferences Thursday, Miller denied any wrongdoing.

He also had a full roster to work with as Trier was reinstated.,

Cal coach Wyking Jones was disturbed by the reports, “Although we are all competitors, and we have to compete against each other night in and night out in this conference, you don’t want to see that as a coach. It’s tough,” Jones said following the Bears loss to Washington last Saturday.  “We all know each other we all hang out. I don’t know what’s true and what’s false, there are some decisions some folks have made and you have to deal with it.

“For me it takes the edge of what it should be about. It should be about the players, it should be about the teams, not us coaches. At the end of the day, you don’t tune into the game to watch us, you tune into the game to watch them. And so it takes away the focus of what it’s really all about.”

Until further notice, Ayton is going to play for the Wildcats (23-7, 13-4) and that is trouble for the opposition. The 7-1 center from the Bahamas leads the conference in both scoring (19.9) and rebounding (11.2). going into the Stanford game. Fortunately for the Bears he won’t be around much longer as he widely expected to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. However, unless the NCAA says otherwise, the Bears will have to deal with him Saturday.

The Wildcats create double trouble down low with fellow 7-footer Dusan Ristic. The two combine to average 31.8 points, while shooting 59.9 per cent from the floor. They combined for an even 30 in the first meeting in January. Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh will have their hands full again. They are a big reason the Wildcats lead the Pac-12 in field goal percentage, 51.3.








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