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Bears hit the road for Oregon

By Jared Green Daily Planet Staff
Thursday January 10, 2002

The Cal men’s basketball team’s season so far has come down to the equivalent of a real estate maxim: location, location, location. The Bears are a perfect 10-0 at home, with their latest triumph a shocking 68-54 win over archrival Stanford. But Cal has yet to get a win outside of Haas Pavilion, falling to both the Cardinal and South Florida by 20 points. 

Head coach Ben Braun doesn’t think the Bears’ fortunes are necessarily tied to their home court. He chalks the wide swing in performance up to his team’s effort. 

“I hope our players realize that no matter how good you are, that it’s something you can’t just turn on and off, that it has to be consistent,” Braun said. “Everybody gets excited at home. The challenge is greater.” 

The first challenge this weekend will be to shut down the explosive Oregon (10-4, 3-1 Pac 10) offense on Thursday night. The Ducks are averaging 88.1 points per game and have scored at least 85 in each of their last seven games. Ernie Kent’s squad has broken the 100-point barrier twice, including a victory over highly-ranked Arizona, 105-75. 

The Ducks are also undefeated at home (8-0) and will be focused after a road loss to Arizona State on Saturday. The upset kept Oregon from a rare Arizona road sweep, having defeated the Wildcats on Thursday night. 

“Arizona State brought the fight to us and it was a battle,” Oregon head coach Ernie Kent said. “We were upset but anxious to get back home. We’ve played extremely well at home. We play with a lot of confidence at Mac Court.” 

The best chance for the Bears will be to come with their best defensive effort, but the probable absence of senior center Solomon Hughes, who missed the Stanford games with a leg injury, could make that tough to accomplish. The Bears have the best defense in the Pac-10, giving up 61.4 points per game, and lead the conference in blocked shots with 60, but with Hughes on the bench they could have trouble against the extremely quick Ducks. Guards Luke Ridnour and Frederick Jones and forward Luke Jackson all average about 15 points per game buzzing around the perimeter, while gigantic center Chris Christoffersen (7-foot-2, 300 pounds) anchors the middle.  

Braun will be forced to counter Christoffersen with freshmen Jamal Sampson and Amit Tamir if Hughes is unable to go, and neither of them can match up with the Oregon center’s size. But Sampson should give Christoffersen trouble with his superior athleticism and quickness, while Tamir has shown a nice mid-range shooting touch. If they can draw Christoffersen out from beneath the basket, the matchup will favor the Bears. 

If Braun’s team can’t get a win on Thursday, they would seem to have a much better chance on Saturday against Oregon State (8-6, 1-3). The Beavers haven’t managed a quality win yet this season, with their only win coming over Arizona State at home. Their main threat is Phillip Ricci, a junior-college transfer who sat out last season with an injury. Ricci has recorded four double-doubles so far this year and leads the team in scoring at 17.5 ppg. Despite playing some low-level competition, the Beavers have been out-rebounded and committed more turnovers than their opponents, not a good sign for a team without an explosive offense.