Cal point guard Tyrone Wallace could be back sooner than expected

Injured Cal point guard Tyrone Wallace will see the doctor on Thursday about the broken bone in his hand, and hopes to be cleared to play sooner rather than later.

BERKELEY -- Since California senior point guard Tyrone Wallace went down with a broken bone in his hand almost a month ago, the Golden Bears have gone 3-2. During that span, Cal has averaged 12.2 assists per game (as opposed to 13.1 with him in the lineup), and 70.2 points per game, down from 75.5 with Wallace in the lineup. 

Could the Bears get him back sooner, rather than later?

"He’s going to see the doctor, so he’s hoping to get cleared the next time he sees the doctor," said junior Sam Singer.

That doctor's appointment is on Thursday, which just so happens to be the date of Cal's next tussell -- a 6:30 p.m. tilt with No. 11 Oregon, currently sitting atop the conference standings, and winners of nine of its last 10 games.

"He hasn’t live practiced. He dribbles the ball with a certain hand, but he hasn’t been up and down on the floor. I wouldn’t rule it out, but I wouldn’t rule it in," said head coach Cuonzo Martin.

Wallace's original prognosis had him out 4-6 weeks, and it's not yet been a month. He's itching to get back onto the court. After the Ducks (20-4, 9-2 in Pac-12), Cal welcomes Oregon State (14-8, 5-6) -- which beat the Bears with Wallace -- to Haas for a 3:30 p.m., tip on Saturday. Then, the Bears (15-8, 5-5) head on the road to face fourth-place Washington (15-8, 7-4) and last-place Washington State (9-14, 1-10) on Feb. 18 and Feb. 21, respectively. With a 1-8 record away from Haas Pavilion, Wallace's return for the Washington trip would be a welcome one, indeed.

"Through the hustle and bustle of competing in competitive games, the ups and downs, the highs and lows, sometimes, it’s always good to take a breath and step back, and say, ‘OK, let’s regroup and let’s go,’" Martin said. "I think, in my opinion, everything works for a reason, happens for a reason. I think he’ll be OK because of it.” Wallace's respite has allowed Singer to get his feet wet as the starting point, and at times, he's certainly looked the part. Singer has had one eight-assist game (in his first start) and one nine-assist game (against Stanford), while it took Wallace until the first game this season to have his first game of at least eight assists.

Singer has not been able to replace Wallace's 15.4 points per game, though. During the five-game span Wallace has been out, Singer has averaged 4.0 points per game and 4.6 assists, the same as Wallace's average before he went down.

At times, Martin has played Jaylen Brown at the point, and there's been some success with that, as Brown has averaged 3.0 assists per game over the last five. Brown, though, is not someone who's meant to be on the ball full-time, as Martin has said in the past. He's a play-maker, to be sure, but he also is averaging 3.1 turnovers per game this season. Still, it's a wrinkle that Oregon did not see before, though Brown's 20-point, nine-rebound night against the Ducks last time out certainly still sticks in the mind of Oregon head coach Dana Altman.

“Hopefully, we’ll do a little better than we did the first time," said Altman. "He’s a very versatile player, he shoots the ball from the perimeter, his ball skills are pretty good, he’s very good at getting to the rim. He’s a handful, no doubt, and I’m hoping that we can stop or slow his dribble penetration a little better than we did here. He really hurt us off the drive, got to the rim on a number of occasions. He is a tough guard, because he is versatile, and because of his size, he’s a tough match up.”

But, given that the Ducks are third in the league in steals (7.6 per game) and lead the Pac-12 in turnover margin (+2.88 per game), Brown at the point for any extended time is a risky proposition, especially given Oregon's pressure defense, and the fact that the Bears are last in the Pac-12 in turnover margin (-3.09). The Bears are also 11th in the conference in assists per game, and last time against the Ducks, Cal had just six helpers on 26 field goals.

“I think what Sam does, is Sam is a pass-first guy, and Tyrone is a scoring guard," Martin said. "Sam’s a pass-first guy, he’s looking to pass the ball, looking to make decisions. That’s how he plays. That’s who he is. Tyrone's a guy built to score the ball. He’s a score-first, pass-second [guy]. Now, will they both be on the floor together? Yes. Sam’s doing a good job for us. I don't have a timetable, who starts, who comes in, who comes out. The next time Tyrone plays this year, the first time he steps on the floor, I think Sam will still be the starting point guard. After that, who knows?” Martin, who doesn't concern himself with injuries until he gets a firm 'yes' or 'no,' also said that it wouldn't be a matter of easing Wallace back in to the lineup.

“When guys are injured, my gauge is always, if he’s cleared to play – I’ve never understood when somebody says he’ll play 15 minutes; I don’t know what that means," Martin said. "If he’s cleared to play, that means he’s playing. After that, you kind of gauge it with his conditioning and his feel for the game. I don’t think a guy comes out, and hasn’t played, and all of the sudden he’s playing 38 minutes, that means we’re probably in really big trouble, if he’s playing really well. I just think it’s a case where you see how a guy feels and you go from there. But, if he’s cleared in my mind, he’s part of the rotation.”

One of Wallace's drawbacks before he went down was that he wasn't vocal enough, Martin said. Since he's been on the bench, the Bears have seen a new side of the Bakersfield, Calif., native.

"I think, in Tyrone’s case, he’s probably been more vocal than I’ve been around him, these two years, as far as communicating with his guys on the floor, what he sees from the bench, translating into the locker room," Martin said. "Those are the things we’ve really been looking for, from Tyrone."

It's a side of Wallace that Singer, as the presumptive heir to the starting point guard spot, has seen for quite some time, now.

“Tyrone’s been really vocal with me. He and I talk a lot, especially the past two years, but really started in the spring," Singer said. "We worked out a lot together this spring and this summer. We really like playing with each other, so we were really trying to work off each other, in the beginning of the year, and since he’s gone down, he says nothing changes. You've got to stay aggressive, you’ve got to do what you do. He doesn’t want me to try to replace him, scoring-wise, because we have different strengths. He’s been trying to keep me encouraged, telling me to do what I do, be confident, take what the defense gives me, run the team.”

Arguably Cal's best option when Wallace returns is to put Singer at the point and Wallace off the ball, which has proven to be very effective, in spurts, and is a situation that Martin alluded to. Now, Wallace brings something more to the table than when he went down.

“Absolutely. I think he has a different perspective now, watching from the bench, that you don’t see in a game," Singer said. "Obviously, in games, it’s hard to see what other guys are doing, so from the bench, he’s able to see some of the mistakes we’re making, and he’s been more vocal in time outs, during games, and even when we’re watching film. He’s kind of giving us that senior leadership now, from the bench.” When he returns, it would be a matter of putting what he's learned into practice.

"I don’t get to a crisis situation or a situation like that and say, ‘Now, be a leader,’ because we talk about that all the time," Martin said. "Just, understanding, now, you have a chance to see what I see, as a coach, and I think that helps him. He actually said it: It’s different when you see it from the bench. You hear coaches saying this, this and this, but now, you see it. ‘OK, I see what coach is saying.’ I had many injuries, and I was able to see sometimes, what coach was saying. When you’re out there, you’re just out there. You’re playing basketball. There’s a game plan. But, sometimes it’s good to take a step back and say, ‘OK, I feel it, I understand it,’ and then it’s just a matter of doing.”

It's not something Wallace is used to. He's a soft-spoken, light-touch leader. At times, Singer has shown he has a voice, directing the offense and even barking at his teammates while handling the ball. It's a contrast in styles.

"He's not a quiet guy; he does talk, but it’s just a matter of being loud, being aggressive," Martin said of Wallace. "Maybe it's more of me wanting something from him than what his nature is. At that position, and being a senior leader, it’s what’s needed for our team. I learned that from Gene Keady, my college coach: Any time you’re a senior or an upperclassman, it's what's expected, whether you’re a walk-on or you’re a starting point guard. You’re a leader, and we expect these things out of you every day.”

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