First, come the Cougars, who kicked off the Bears’ six-game losing streak back in early January with a 69-66 win in Berkeley, and then fell to Cal 76-67 on Jan. 29 in Pullman, Wash., kicking off a five-game winning streak for the Bears.
“We’re just getting ready to play a game,” said Martin, whose Bears lost the final two games of the regular season to the Wildcats and Arizona State. “The most important thing is to beat a Washington State team that had a big win at home against Colorado, and that’s about it.”
The No. 8-seed Bears (17-14, 7-11 in Pac-12) square off with the No. 9-seed Cougars (13-17, 7-11) at noon on the Pac-12 Networks from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, and the two teams are very similar.
Cal is shooting 43.8% from the field on the season, and Washington State is shooting 43.5%. Both teams are averaging under 70 points per game. The Bears allow opponents to hit 42.5% of field goals (fourth-worst in the conference) and the Cougars allow a conference-worst 46.5%.
With Jabari Bird back in the fold – averaging 14.67 points per game over his last six contests – Cal has some serious outside shooting threats, along with Tyrone Wallace (n track to be the first Pac-12 player since Luke Jackson to average 17+ points, 7+ rebounds and 3+ assists per game) and Jordan Mathews (47.4% in conference play), and upon occasion, Sam Singer (45.5% in conference play from beyond the arc), and Washington State is dead last in the conference in three-point shooting defense, allowing opposing teams to shoot 36.8% from distance. Cal is hitting 35.4% from three, but when it comes to the Cougars’ three-point attack, DaVonte Lacy is fourth in the conference in three-pointers made (2.27 per game).
Against Cal, though, Lacy has shot just 10-for-25 from the field, and 3-for-11 from three-point range, but he did score a team-high 24 points in the 76-67 loss on Jan. 29, thanks to a 9-for-10 day at the free-throw line. The real assassins have been Jordan Railey and Josh Hawkinson.
Hawkinson has shot a combined 12-for-28, with 25 rebounds and 36 points over the previous two outings, while Railey has shot 9-for-21 from the field.
When the teams first met, Railey owned the low post against David Kravish -- whose foul trouble the last two games has led to two huge runs by the Arizona schools which all but sealed those two games (a 26-14 run for ASU and a 19-7 run for Arizona).
In the season finale – a 96-91 overtime win against No. 10 seed Colorado -- Railey scored 12 points on 6-of-12 shooting, and the game before, scored 12 points in 17 minutes against No. 3-seed Utah.
“I think, at the end of the day, Railey did a good job, and he played well against Colorado. He played well this past weekend, but I think, for us, it starts with Lacy,” Martin said. “Lacy and Hawkinson, those are the two guys who, when they’re playing well, everybody else feeds off those guys. That’s what good players do. You allow other guys to be in the roles they need to be in order for the team to be successful. Everything goes through Lacy, making shots. He’s making plays. He took over in overtime with a big play, and Hawkinson is doing a tremendous job in rebounding the basketball, making shots and they’re playing well.”
One of the biggest bugaboos for the Bears this season has been free-throw shooting, and if Pac-12 first-teamer Wallace goes to the hole and draws fouls, he’s almost as apt to hit them as miss. As a team, Cal is second-worst in the conference to USC in free-throw shooting, hitting 64.9% of freebies, while the Cougars take advantage of going to the line, hitting 71.8% from the charity stripe –good for third in the conference.
“You’d like to be full-strength, with 10 to 12 guys in the rotation, healthy legs, be able to play three games, four games – that’s the biggest key, to be prepared to play three or four games in a row,” said Martin, who’s had to sit Wallace and Kravish at times of late with foul trouble, severely limiting an already sparse bench. “But, it’s no different. The most important game is Washington State. Whatever happens after that, happens. I think you try to win that game, first. We won’t practice and prepare for four teams.”