After looking like one of the worst teams in the country just weeks ago, California has regrouped behind freshman point guard Darius McNeill. The Houston native has emerged as a team leader and primary scoring threat for the Bears, who have won two in a row heading into Tuesday’s road matchup against Seattle.
One game after scoring 10 points in an upset of San Diego State, McNeill had a career-high 30 points and added career bests in rebounds (six), assists (six) and steals (five) in Saturday’s 95-89 overtime win over Cal State Fullerton. “Darius is a talented young man,” coach Wyking Jones told reporters. “As a staff, we have all the confidence in the world in him, and he’s getting better and better at learning how to run the team.” McNeill is shooting 49.1 percent from 3-point range to lead the Bears, who appear to be back on track following a rough stretch that included ugly losses to Central Arkansas and Division II Chaminade. Jones has also been encouraged by the play of 6-foot-11 senior forward Marcus Lee, a Kentucky transfer who registered his fourth double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds in Saturday’s victory.
TV: 10 p.m. ET, WAC Digital Network
ABOUT CAL (5-6): The Bears’ imposing frontcourt includes 7-foot-1 senior center Kingsley Okoroh, who has combined with Lee for 53 blocks. Junior guard Don Coleman leads the team in scoring at 21.1 points per game but saw his shooting slump continue on Saturday, when he scored 26 points on 5-of-23 shooting, including 3-of-10 from 3-point range, while making 13 of his 16 attempts from the foul line. Jones used a six-man rotation against Cal State Fullerton with McNeill, Coleman and Lee each logging at least 43 minutes in the win.
ABOUT SEATTLE (8-5): Sophomore guard Matej Kavas averages 18.3 points to lead five players in double figures for Seattle, which has opened its nine-game homestand with back-to-back wins over Saint Martin’s and Portland. Senior point guard Jordan Hill, who played four seasons at Wisconsin, had a game-high 23 points against Portland and is averaging 22 points over his last four games. The Redhawks have size near the basket in 7-foot-3 junior Aaron Menzies, who is scoring 11.8 points per game with a team-high 23 blocks.
1. The Bears must beat Seattle and Portland State to avoid their first losing record prior to the start of Pac-12 play since going 4-5 to start the 2003-04 season.
2. Picked to finish fifth in the Western Athletic Conference preseason poll, Seattle ranks fourth in the country in free-throw percentage (80.1).
3. Cal senior forward Cole Welle, who missed the first 10 games with a broken right thumb, returned to action Saturday and played two minutes in the second half.
PREDICTION: Cal 68, Seattle 62