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Bears face Stanford two times this weekend

By Dean Caparaz Special to the Daily Planet
Friday January 04, 2002

Cal opens its Pac-10 basketball season with a tough test. The 9-1 Golden Bears take on rival and No. 12-ranked Stanford twice in three days in an unusual bit of scheduling this weekend. 

“It’s a new experience for us,” said Cal coach Ben Braun. “There’s no advantage or disadvantage, I think, in anybody’s favor. Would Stanford and us like to play and divide it up? Probably. But that’s not going to happen this year and you make the most of it and consider it a big challenge.” 

Cal center Solomon Hughes was a bit more succinct. 

“That’s the best way to start.” 

The first game, at Stanford’s Maples Pavilion at 4 p.m., pits Cal against a post-Collins twins Cardinal that is still considered the cream of the crop in the conference. Stanford boasts a 7-2 record, with losses to Texas and BYU. The rematch comes on Sunday at Haas Pavilion at 7 p.m. 

As recently as last year, two straight games with Stanford would have meant two straight losses probably of the blowout variety.  

Not so in 2002. An improved Cal team could easily come out of the next two games with a split. 

The Bears have gotten better with the addition of freshmen Jamal Sampson and Amit Tamir and the improved play of starters Solomon Hughes, Joe Shipp and Dennis Gates.  

Shipp, the 6-5 junior forward, leads the Bears in scoring with a career high 14.9 points per game, while Sampson leads the Bears in rebounding with 8.2 per game. Sampson also chips in with 7.6 points per game. 

Gates, who will have plenty of help, will have his hands full with Stanford star Casey Jacobsen. The junior guard, who is almost as lethal with his distribution as he is from the outside, leads his team with 20.6 ppg. The 6-6 Jacobsen also leads Stanford in assists with 3.7 per game and is Stanford’s second-leading rebounder with 5.1 per game. 

Stanford is still strong in the paint, thanks to 7-0, 240-pound center Curtis Borchardt (16.2 ppg, 10.9 rpg) and 6-8 forward Justin Davis (7.6 ppg, 4.2 ppg).  

Borchardt, a junior who gets the bulk of the minutes down low since the Collins twins left for the NBA, has clogged up the middle with 26 blocks on the season. 

“Last year they had the two Collins twins that you had to go in and score on,” Braun said. “I wouldn’t say it’s any easier necessarily now to go in. When you go in now, both Justin Davis and Curtis Borchardt are two very good defensive players. Borchard’s always a threat on the defensive end because of his shot-blocking ability. He’s a long player. It’s tough.” 

However, the presence of the 6-11 Hughes, the 6-11 Sampson and even the 6-10 Tamir, the 22-year-old Israeli army man who just started playing last weekend, gives Cal the size advantage that Stanford used to have over the Bears. 

Cal’s defense has improved on the perimeter and inside, where Sampson has blocked 20 shots and Hughes has blocked 15 shots this season. Overall, the Bears already have 55 blocks, compared to just 66 blocks all last season. 

“We definitely match up better this year,” said Solomon Hughes, who enters the week as Cal’s second-leading scorer at 11.4 ppg. 

“We actually have three solid post defenders,” Braun said. “That helps us, if one guy gets into foul trouble or one guy gets fatigued, there’s never been any question. We’ve been able to rest a guy, been able to give a guy a break.” 

Cal’s outside shooting will also help against a tough Stanford defense. Shipp has hit 23 shots from three-point land and shoots 41 percent from behind the arc. Point guard Shantay Legans has hit 12 times from downtown. 

Indeed, the fact that scoring comes from more sources than it used to when Sean Lampley played at Haas gives Cal an edge over the teams that struggled against Stanford the last several seasons. Lampley scored 19.5 ppg as a senior last season and was often Cal’s first, second and third scoring option. 

“Their emphasis was pretty much prepared for a given that the ball would be in Sean’s hands a lot,” Braun said. “One thing you see from our team this year is we’ve been able to score in a variety of ways. We’re trying to get baskets in transition. We’re trying to get different touches, different looks. 

“Solomon has been real consistent scoring for us. At the same time we’ve given Joe Shipp and Brian Wethers a chance to post up. We’ve given our guys a chance to penetrate. We have other opportunities now. I think we’re a little harder to prepare for than we were probably a year ago.”