Cal's Kameron Rooks faces another test in Utah's Jakob Poeltl

BERKELEY -- After two big wins at home against Arizona State and No. 11 Arizona, California heads back on the road with a 1-6 record away from Haas Pavilion, for a rematch with Utah.

Cal (14-6, 4-3 in Pac-12) vs. Utah (15-5, 4-3)

When: 8:00 p.m. Pacific, Thurs., Jan. 27
Where: Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City, Utah
TV: ESPNU (Roy Philpott, Adrian Branch)
Radio: KGO 810 AM - Todd McKim, Jay John
Notes: Freshman Ivan Rabb (27), sophomore Kingsley Okoroh (25) and redshirt sophomore Kameron Rooks (16) have been part of an historic season when it comes to blocks. The Bears' total of 108 blocks shots through 20 games have them on a school-record pace ... Cal is the best in the nation in two-point defensive field-goal percentage (39.2%) ... Utah is third in the Pac-12 in shooting (48.1%), and is shooting 56.0% from inside the three-point arc.

BERKELEY -- Before every game, California center Kameron Rooks has a chat with his NBA father -- Sean Rooks. Every time, the elder Rooks -- who spent 12 years at the game's highest level -- tells his seven-foot son the same thing.

"He tells me what I need to do: Go out there and play as hard as I can, go rebound," said the younger Rooks, who pulled down a career-high seven rebounds in a 74-73 win over his father's alma mater: Arizona.

“He was happy. I mean, of course, his Arizona Wildcats lost, and all that stuff, and that sucks for him, but he’s always in my corner," Rooks laughed.

Rooks also talks with his father about scoring. Right now, he's averaging a paltry 2.7 points per game. 

"Right now, I’m not scoring," he said. "My role is to do different things on the court for my team.”

Head coach Cuonzo Martin thinks Rooks is ready to score, and he'll need to against Utah, which hosts the Bears at 8 p.m. on ESPNU at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, where the Utes (15-5, 4-3 in Pac-12) have lost just four games over the last three seasons.

That's far from a welcome stat for Cal (14-6, 4-3), which is 1-6 away from Haas Pavilion this season. "I think Kam is ready to score the ball. He’s hungry to score the ball," said Martin. "We just have to do a better job of getting him the ball. Now, there are also opportunities when guys are coming off ball screens for him to have a presence and score, he has to want the ball in those situations. It’s being confident, rolling down the rim. When big guys are rolling to the rim, and they’re looking for a ball, and you don’t see the rim, you have to be able to step and go over. It takes time.”

Rooks cited the difference between the Bears' home record (13-0) and their dismal mark on the road as being due to energy.

“Our key is just to bring the same energy," he said. "Our fans aren’t going to be there to help us with that energy. We need to bring energy amongst ourselves, and plus, we need to eliminate breakdowns on the road, because we have a lot of breakdowns. I feel like a lot of our losses are because of what we do. We mess up.”

More quantitatively, those errors are, simply put, rebounding and turnovers.

Last time out, the Bears out-rebounded the Utes 39-28, with 12 offensive rebounds to Utah's six. Cal came away with offensive rebounds 35.3% of the time, while the Utes were uccessful 18.2% of the time, far below their season pace of 31.2% (11th in the Pac-12). In that game, Utah had nine turnovers, with the Bears scoring 14 points off of those turnovers.

On the season, Cal is coming down with 33.5% of offensive rebounding opportunities, and turning the ball over 12.45 times per game.

At home, the Bears are coming down with 36.9% of offensive rebounds, and turning the ball over 11.77 times per game. On the road, those turnovers jump to 13.71.

"Limit your turnovers, try to make your free throws at at least a 70-percent clip, don’t give up home run plays," Martin said of what Cal's keys will be against Utah. "What I mean by that, when you turn the ball over, it’s one thing, because that’ll happen, but when you turn it over and there’s a deadball situation, you can stop and set your defense. Then, all of the sudden, you have live ball turnovers, you turn it over, and all of the sudden, they’re going back the other way for two points or three points or foul at the basket. We can’t have those types of turnovers."

Giving Utah extra possessions is not a winning proposition. The Utes are 76th in the nation in offensive efficiency, and a lot of that has to do with a man that Rooks will be dealing with, personally: Jakob Poeltl.

Big Man Battle

Poeltl, at 7-foot, 235 pounds, is one of the most dynamic big men in the Pac-12. The Bears faced another contender for that title -- Kaleb Tarczewski -- last week, limiting the Wildcats big man to 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting.

Poeltl -- a three-time Pac-12 Player of the Week winner this season, is fourth in the league in scoring (16.9 ppg), fifth in rebounding (9.0), third in shooting percentage (63.7%), fifth in blocks (1.8 bpg), twelth in offensive rebounds per game (2.6) and fourth in defensive rebounds per game (6.4). "He can impact the game in so many ways – he does a good job of attacking the rim, posting up, posting off the blocks, finding his shooters, spreading the floor, he scores in so many different ways," Martin said. "The thing about him that makes him tough is, he’s not just a guy who goes to the rim and posts up; he catches off the block, he’ll face up and drive you, he’ll find his guys, he knows when a double’s coming; he’s one of the best young guys I’ve seen versus the double team."

Last week, Martin showed confidence in his big men by keeping at least one of them on the floor, even though Rooks, Kingsley Okoroh and Ivan Rabb dealt with foul trouble most of the night.

"They’re all legitimate calls," Martin said of Rooks and Okoroh, who average 2.5 and 2.0 fouls per game, but have totalled 81 personal fouls in 453 minutes. "In my opinion, I don’t think the ref has missed on those two guys, with their positioning. King is hooking guys quite a bit, and he has to improve that part. That’s the thing that’s frustrating for those two guys, because we need them on the floor, because of their presence. When they’re on the floor, they do good things, but they have to do a better job of moving their feet, keeping their hands high and not fouling.” Last time out against Poeltl and the Utes, Rooks and Okoroh each tallied four fouls. Martin in the past has said that the two have nine fouls to give, so if they can stay under that, they should be in good shape.

“The first time, that maybe I can’t be fouling as much as I did in the last game,” Rooks laughed. “I mean, I learned not to let him go to his dominant hand, which is his right hand, and make him shoot with his left hand, the one that he’s not so good with.”

In that game, Poeltl scored 19 points on 6-of-14 shooting, was 7-of-9 at the free throw line (he's hitting 69.5% on the season from the charity stripe) with 10 rebounds. While those stats certainly seem gaudy, Poeltl had trouble getting consistent looks at the basket, and never got into a rhythm, hitting consecutive shots just once.

“I think we did a really good job, actually," Rooks said. "He wasn’t making shots in a row. We didn’t let him get momentum. We were playing physical with him. I think we did a really good job. That’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to bring that to the next game.”

Martin has said to his big men -- Okoroh and Rooks, in particular -- that if they dribble the ball more than two times in the post, that bad things are going to happen. Cal will be looking to make bad things happen for Poeltl.

“You want him to pound the ball three or four times before he makes a move," Martin said. "You can’t let him get low-post, easy catches. Then, you have to make him go to his second and third options. That’s a lot of stuff, but he’s one of the most talented guys, and he reads the defense very well. He makes good decisions.”

Those second and third options, though, are pretty good, particularly Jordan Loveridge. The senior forward ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in three-point percentage (41.3%) and second in the league in three-pointers made per game (2.5). Last time out against the Bears, he had six points on 2-of-5 shooting, 0-for-2 from three and 2-for-3 from the line, with three rebounds and one assist. "He’s been in big games, he’s battle-tested, he makes threes," Martin said. "You can’t leave him open. It’s the case of a guy who’s really improved his perimeter game, with his three-point shot. He has respect on the floor from his teammates, and from the opponents. You have to identify him on the floor. He can’t get open looks. If he gets open looks, you’re in trouble, but I think they play well together, because, in his case, if he’s at the four, he helps those guys. If he’s at the three, he’s a big, physical presence at the three that can make shots. Either way, a guy that’s experienced, knows how to play, and helps his teammates out. I think he and [point guard Brandon Taylor] are two of the best, as far as their leadership on the floor.”

Another key is to fight fire with fire, and Cal certainly has a hot hand in freshman Rabb. In Pac-12 play, Rabb is averaging 12.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, and is shooting 61.8% from the field. Against Arizona, Rabb started to go to a tool he hasn't used yet at the college level -- the mid-range jumper.

"Oh, Ivan’s an amazing player," Rooks said. "He’s a great rebounder. He’s got -- I swear -- he’s got glue in his hands. He catches the ball so easily. Also, on defense, of course, he can improve a little bit in post defense, but I think, when he’s playing perimeter guys, he’s doing a lot better job, and a lot better job helping others.”

Point Man

Speaking of helping others, the Bears will continue to go with Sam Singer as the starting point guard, in place of injured senior point Tyrone Wallace.

“I think, more than anything, it’s the team rallying around Sam, to lift him up: ‘Sam, it’s your turn. Next man up. We’re ready to go. We believe in you,’" said Martin.

As he did last week against the Wildcats, though, Martin isn't shy about using freshman Jaylen Brown as the point.

"With Jaylen, this is the way Jaylen’s capable of playing – moving the ball, playing inside-outside, pushing the ball in transition – so it doesn’t change for him," Martin said. "I think, in Ivan’s case, for us, it’s continuing to try to get the ball inside. More than anything, not so much posting up now, but also catch-and-shoot in the 15-17-foot [range], because he can make that shot, and have the confidence to consistently shoot that ball.” “I think it’s great. He’s doing a good job," Rooks said of Brown. "He’s doing a way better job of finding his teammates, and his open teammates, especially our shooters. I think he’s doing a good job, especially against Arizona.”

Against the Wildcats, Brown -- who's averaging a team-high 15.9 points per game in Pac-12 play, to go along with 5.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists -- notched a career-high seven helpers. Earlier this season, Brown went through a stretch where he had one assist in five games, to go along with at least four fouls in each. During that stretch, Brown also turned the ball over 13 times. In Pac-12 play, he's averaging 3.14 turnovers per game, and that's not going to cut it, even against Utah, which is 10th in the league in turnover margin (-2.3), right ahead of the Bears, which are last, with a -2.7 differential.

The key for Brown, though, beyond keeping the ball safe, is hitting his free throws. Despite going 7-for-11 from the line against Arizona Brown is shooting just 63% from the charity stripe in Pac-12 play. If he gives the ball up and passes more, he won't be subject to fouls, but if he does what he does best -- driving -- he's going to go to the line.

"There’s points where we pick and choose, where he can attack off the dribble, depending on who he’s going against," Martin said. "Really, it’s getting those guys in a lot of positions to score the ball, because they demand the presence with one guy, and a couple guys helping around, so when that happens, other guys have to be ready to make plays.”

On Saturday, Jordan Mathews was certainly ready and willing, scoring 20 of his game-high 28 points in the second half, and nailing 6-of-12 from beyond the three-point arc. Mathews ranks first in the Pac-12 in three-pointers made (2.7 per game) and is fifth in three-point field goal percentage (44.6%). Against Arizona, Mathews came off the bench for the second time this season, but that's only because, Martin said, he can take it.

"We make decisions, we make them based on the team, and Jordan’s a strong guy," Martin said. "He still gets his 30 minutes, so that doesn’t change. His production doesn’t change. He needs to stay aggressive, shoot the ball, play the way he plays. I just felt like it was best for us to go with the lineup we’ve gone with right now. But, in my mind, Jordan obviously is a starter. With the game on the line, you want the ball in his hands to make a shot, make a play, because he has that ability."

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