Having broken their road curse with a win at Oregon State last weekend, the Cal men’s basketball team will now tend to their own turf, hosting Washington and Washington State this week. The Bears have yet to lose at Haas Pavilion this season.
The Bears will first take on the Huskies tonight at 7:30 p.m. Washington is just 1-5 in Pac-10 play this season, but may be the victim of a tough early schedule. They have already completed their season series with both UCLA and USC, resulting in four losses, with the other defeat coming at the hands of Arizona.
The Huskies have a dynamic duo in forward Doug Wrenn and point guard Curtis Allen, but little to back them up. Wrenn, a 6-foot-8 transfer from Connecticut, is the team’s leading scorer at 16.6 points per game and has excellent athleticism. He will be a tough matchup for the Bears, especially if Cal center Solomon Hughes is still out with a knee injury. It could be left up to freshman Jamal Sampson, who has the quickness and range to guard Wrenn, to be the defensive stopper for the Bears.
The Bears have been good defensively for the most part this season, with the notable exception of losses to Stanford and Oregon. They have already exceeded last season’s total for blocked shots, but have also excelled in the less glamorous areas of defense, such as taking charges and consistently challenging shots.
“We’re not going to make national magazines (by being defense-oriented), you’re not going to make highlight center,” Cal head coach Ben Braun said. “Guys taking charges, it’s not going to be a headline for a story. Deflections, that’s not showing up anywhere. Challenging a shot, there’s no statistic that shows a (shot challenge).”
The Bears’ main concern on defense against Washington should be the super-quick Allen. The sophomore has been a revelation at the point for the Huskies, amazing spectators with his speed since becoming the starter halfway through last season. He is a bit careless with the ball, with an assist/turnover ratio of just 1.1, but has brought a playmaking ability that the team has sorely lacked in recent years. He was the top returning scorer, but has let Wrenn step to the forefront so far this year.
Guard Grant Leep is the Huskies’ best hope for points outside of Wrenn and Allen, leading the Pac-10 in 3-point shooting at 60 percent. But Leep should be neutralized by the Bears’ perimeter players, as he doesn’t have the quickness to get his own shot. Unless Allen can break down the defense, it should be a long night for Washington.
The outlook is even worse for Washington State. The Cougars are winless in conference play, right where most observers predicted. They visit Haas on Saturday at 5 p.m.
The Cougars are much like Cal on offense: they spread the scoring around and don’t have a go-to guy. Four players average double-figures in points for Washington State, with freshman point guard Marcus Moore leading the way with 14.4 ppg.
Moore is an odd story. As a high school player in Inglewood, he was one of California’s top prep players, recruited by loads of big college programs. But he ended up choosing to spend his college years in the Paloose, and has made an immediate impact. He is not only the team’s leading scorer, he leads in assists and steals and is fourth in rebounding.
Unfortunately, the rest of the team isn’t quite up to Moore’s level. Forward Mike Bush, an outstanding receiver for the school’s football team, is athletic but lacks some basketball instincts. He gets by on quickness and leaping ability to the tune of 11.5 points per game. But overall, the Cougars shouldn’t be a threat unless the Bears have a terrible game.
The relatively weak competition this week should give Hughes a chance to work his way back into game shape, assuming he can play at all. He has missed the last four games, and Braun was non-commital as of Monday as to whether Hughes would play.
“(Hughes) was on the floor (Sunday) testing. He was able to go up and down without significant pain,” Braun said. “We’re going to work him back into practice slowly and surely this week. I expect him to get some minutes. It depends on getting his timing back.”
Hughes’ absence has made worse an already weak rebounding squad for Braun. The Bears have been out-rebounded in four of their last five games despite the addition of 6-foot-10 Amit Tamir, and Braun knows working the glass will be important for the remainder of the season.
“I think it’s concentration. I think it’s mindset,” Braun said. “If we could really solidify the rebounding, that would help us.”
One player who clearly has the right mindset for rebounding is wingman Brian Wethers. Although just 6-foot-5, Wethers has been one of the team’s best rebounders, fourth on the squad with 4.2 per game, including 7 against Oregon State and a team-best 8 in the upset of Stanford.
“Brian is actually going after the boards a lot harder. He’s made that a personal mission. He’s taken that on as part of his identity,” Braun said. “It’s something that he is capable of doing, and he’s going out now and doing it.”