Fireworks on Tap as Cal Hosts EWU

BERKELEY -- Mike Vernon of the San Francisco Chronicle and I break down the next two Cal games in our Four Point Play, as the Bears prep to play Eastern Washington and the Eagles' high-powered offense on Friday at 7 p.m.



BERKELEY -- California has a big weekend ahead, with high-scoring Eastern Washington coming into town for a 7 p.m. tilt on Friday night, and No. 5 Wisconsin set for a 6 p.m. tip on Monday, but while the Badgers – the Bears’ second top-10 opponent this year – loom, senior center David Kravish is focused on the task at hand.

“We could be playing the Lakers on the 22nd, and we still wouldn’t be focusing on them,” Kravish said. “We have a game that we could lose, or we could win, and it’s going to go on our record either way. We’ve got to focus on that one, first.”

The Eagles are averaging 81.3 points per game this season, and are shooting 49.5% as a team, and 40.8% from three-point range.

“Eastern Washington, they’re off to a great start,” redshirt junior Christian Behrens said of the Eagles, who are 8-3 on the year. “They have guys on the floor that can score.”

Eastern Washington is led by 6-foot-4 redshirt junior wing Tyler Harvey (21.0 ppg) and 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward Venky Jois (19.6 ppg), with Harvey shooting 48.4% from the field and 45% from three, and Jois shooting 60.3% from the field, holding down the low post with a team-best 8.3 rebounds per game.

“They’re scoring 80, 90 points a game, so they’ve been real successful offensively,” Behrens said. “We’re going to have to really focus on the defensive end on our scouting report.”

“They make big shots,” said head coach Cuonzo Martin. “Before [the Sam Houston State loss], they had six guys shooting over 40 percent from three, so they’re still hovering around 40-plus as a team. They spread you out, they do a great job coming off ball screens, attacking the rim. They have bigs that can shoot it and score around the rim, they have guards that attack the rim. They run in transition. They’re very balanced, and one of the best offensive scoring teams in the country.”

As of late, the Bears (9-1) have played in very low-scoring affairs, including a 67-57 grind-it-out win last time out against Princeton, and a 45-42 slog against Wyoming.

“We played Princeton, and they grind it out on offense, they run the shot clock down, minimize possessions,” Kravish said. “Wyoming does kind of the same thing, so that’s how the tempo of the game was going to be. The way that we play, it’s a defensive-minded kind of game, so that’s just how it’ll be. If they want to run the shot clock down, that’s fine. We’re going to play defense for the whole time. We’re going to get the rebound and we’re going to get out and do what we do. Whatever Eastern Washington is going to do – they like to shoot, they like to put up big numbers – we’ll do our best to minimize that. I think we’ve proven that we can score with the best of them, so we’ll come back the other way.”

When the Bears can get out in transition – as they did early in the season against then-No. 23 Syracuse – they can most definitely score. Cal put up 73 against the Orange, and over 90 in each of the first two games against Alcorn State and Kennesaw State. Against Cal Poly, Cal put up 72. The game is shaping up to be a high-scoring affair.

“With the way they score the ball, they get it out quick, they make plays, they spread you out,” Martin said. “They shoot it like Princeton, but I think they have more guys that take the ball off the dribble and attack the rim.”

All of those high-scoring affairs, though, have been with Jabari Bird in the starting lineup, and he has yet to practice since injuring his foot against Fresno State.

“Still day-to-day,” Martin said on Wednesday. “We might be blessed to see him at practice today. I’ve got my fingers crossed.”

After a bit of a mischievous grin, Martin was asked to clarify.

“Just joking,” Martin said. “He’ll be sitting there.”

After playing lightly against the Cowboys following an ankle sprain, freshman point guard Brandon Chauca did not play against the Tigers due to a foot injury, though, Martin said, he has been practicing since.

“He’s getting better,” Martin said. “He’s practicing, so he’ll play unless he’s not feeling as well, but he’s getting better.”

How has the absence of two outside threats in Bird and Chauca affected the Bears? Since the game against the Bulldogs, Cal has shot 15-for-44 (34.1%) from three-point range, after going 40-for-104 (38.5%) in the previous six games. Since Bird went down, the Bears are shooting 97-for-222 (43.7%) from the field. Before he went down, Cal shot 47.3%. With both Bird and Chauca out of the lineup, the Bears are shooting just 25% from three-point range.

“Jabari and Brandon are great players,” said Kravish. “It’s obviously great to have them on the floor, but we have a roster full of very capable players, capable shooters, and you play the game to win, no matter who you have on the team, and everybody’s on the team for a reason: They can play. It’d be great to have them out there, but that being said, it’s whoever’s on the court.”


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