Two teams eager to turn the page meet Saturday as California visits Stanford in the Pac-12 opener for both squads. The Bears finished nonconference play with a losing record for the first time since 2003-04, while the Cardinal struggled through a challenging schedule without injured wings Dorian Pickens and Marcus Sheffield.
The inconsistent Bears have several ugly marks on their resume, including a 27-point loss to Central Arkansas and a baffling loss to Division II Chaminade. Cal strung together three straight wins before hitting another low on Dec. 21, when they committed a season-high 26 turnovers in a 106-81 loss to Portland State. “I’m just generally very disappointed in our effort, because I was so pleased with how we had played the past three games. I felt like we were making progress,” first-year coach Wyking Jones told reporters. “For our guys to kind of, I wouldn’t say quit, but to kind of not find it in them to dig ourselves out of holes and continue to fight is disappointing.” The Bears won’t receive any sympathy from rival Stanford, which was picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 preseason poll but rank last in the conference in scoring at 72.8 points per game.
TV: 10 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
ABOUT CAL (6-7): Jones is leaning heavily on junior guard Don Coleman (team-high 20.5 points per game) and freshman point guard Darius McNeill, who is averaging 13.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists. The frontcourt needs more consistent play from 7-foot-1 Kingsley Okoroh and Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee, who have combined for 66 blocks but have disappeared on offense at times. Jones has been mostly pleased by the development of his seven freshmen, including forward Justice Sueing, who has started 12 games and averages 11.5 points and 5.0 boards.
ABOUT STANFORD (6-7): Junior forward Reid Travis averages 21.4 points and 7.1 rebounds but was held to a season-low 12 points in the team’s final nonconference game, a 75-54 loss to Kansas on Dec. 21. One bright spot was the season debut of freshman forward Kezie Okpala, who was cleared academically and registered six points in 28 minutes off the bench. “I was really proud of the way he competed,” coach Jerod Haase told reporters. “I think he has a chance to be an elite-level defender. This is the very tip of the iceberg.”
1. Cal holds a 148-122 lead in the all-time series, including 75-73 at Stanford.
2. Pickens and Sheffield remain out with foot injuries but hope to return in the next few weeks.
3. Cal ranks last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense at 80.1 points per game.
PREDICTION: Stanford 78, Cal 69