California headed into the mountains last week needing to win at least one game against teams they'd already beaten to sew up the fourth seed in the Pac-12 Tournament. Head coach Cuonzo Martin doesn't see things that way.
"I don't think those two games were games to win to get a four seed," said Martin, whose Bears (19-11, 10-8 in Pac-12) lost to both Utah and Colorado. "The first game of the season is the game to get a four seed. What I mean by that, I talk to our guys all the time: It never comes down to just one game, unless you're playing for the Pac-12 championship or the Pac-12 Tournament championship or the national championship. Then, it's one game."
Cal will be facing a one-game scenario on Wednesday, at 2:30 p.m., at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. As a consequence of falling out of that No. 4 seed, and out of a first-round bye, the Bears will face a third game against No. 12-seed Oregon State (5-26, 1-17). Cal is 2-2 in the Pac-12 Tournament against teams its played for the third time.
"We won the first game at their place, won the second game here on Senior Night, but it's always different, because you're talking about a different venue," Martin said, referring to the new shooting background both teams will face, playing in the new T-Mobile Arena for the first time, as it serves its first turn as the host venue for the Pac-12 Tournament. "They fought, they competed, especially at their place. We just made enough plays to win the basketball game, but they don't have nothing to lose. They're playing hard, they're competing, they're young and they're talented. They still have a lot to play for, and they have a great future in front of them, as a program. When you have one of your best players out all season [Tres Tinkle], that's tough on a team, but I think what this does, it's a venue where it gives the young guys more game reps under their belt, more opportunities, and anything can happen."
In their last meeting, the Bears thoroughly dismantled the Beavers, 76-46, holding Oregon State to just 17-of-46 (37.0%) from the field and 4-of-14 (28.6%) from three-point land, while themselves shooting 47.5% from the field, but only 15.4% from three-point land.
That game, though, was the only game Cal has won in its last six.
"We have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball," said Martin, whose team has turned the ball over an average of 12.8 times per game over their last six, while opponents have turned the ball over just 10.5 times per game. "We have to get to the free throw line more than we've gotten to the free throw line. I think those are the biggest keys. Of course, you've got to make shots. Everybody's got to make shots, but we have to be able to take care of the ball, make free throws and try to get in the lane and create fouls, so we can get to the free throw line, so everything's not just on the perimeter."
Cal has gone to the free throw line 103 times, 30 less than its opponents. The Bears are 11th in the Pac-12 in free throw percentage, and while Oregon State isn't much better (10th, at 66.4%), over the last six games, the Beavers are hitting 68.4% of their freebies. Shooting from the field, though, has been another story. Shooting 44.7% from the field on the season, Oregon State has shot just 39.8% over the past six games, headed into Wednesday afternoon's tilt.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1760821-martin-on-openings... Sophomore Stephen Thompson Jr., who ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring (16.0 ppg) is struggling, as well. He's shooting just 36.5% over his last six, and is getting to the free throw line just 1.3 times per game. In his two games against the Bears this season, he's just 10-of-27 from the field, but 7-of-17 from three, held largely in check by senior Jabari Bird.
"He's a good basketball player," Martin said. "He's probably the craftiest guy in our league, as far as being shifty around the rim, whether it's flowing left or right. He shoots the three ball. He scores in a variety of ways. He's really improved his game coming off the ball screens, so that's another dimension where you have to defend him. He makes catch-and-shoot threes, he scores in transition. He's a guy who can make shots when the game's on the line, and he puts pressure on your defense, from start to finish, because, whether he's in the ball screen, has the ball in his hands, or he's away from the ball, if he's away from the ball, you know he's coming off a screen to come get the ball. Whoever's defending him has to do a great job, and I think Jabari's done a sound job in both games, with a lot of help from other guys corralling him. He knows how to play. He knows he's the guy who can score the ball on the perimeter, and he'll be shot-ready at all times."
While transition defense played a large role against the Utes, and in both losses to Oregon (both of which saw the Bears lead, before those leads vanished), the Beavers aren't a team that will get out much in transition. Wednesday will likely be a low-possession game. Oregon State is 315th in the nation in adjusted tempo (64.5 possessions per game) and Cal is 299th (65.4). The Bears have a stifling defense -- ranking ninth in defensive efficiency -- while the Beavers are 308th in adjusted offensive efficiency (96.8 points per 100 possessions). Oregon State is 345th in the country in turnover percentage on offense (23.1%), and are 279th in the nation in shooting from inside the arc.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1747996-cal-defense-shuts-... The reason for the slower tempo is easy to point out: The Beavers play with two true big men in 6-foot-10, 240-pound Drew Eubanks and 6-foot-11, 255-pound Gligorije Rakocevic. For six minutes in the home finale against Oregon State, Cal played twin seven-footers Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh on the floor at the same time, and given the opportunity, Martin opined he may very well do that again.
"We've done that against those guys, because they have two traditional big guys," Martin said. "We can use a smaller four in some case, but it does help with Kam and King. We've played Kam and King together against those guys the last game, and we can do it again."
Despite Ivan Rabb averaging a double-double this season, against the Beavers, he's failed to grab double-digit rebounds in either contest (9 and 8, respectively). He's shot well enough -- 11-for-21 -- and scored a total of 34 points, but his presence on the glass is where he's most valued, especially since his usage rate is just 23.8% -- up just a tick from his 20.0% usage rate last season.
"I think, for us, we need him to do so many things, and it's hard, because he sees the double," Martin said. "The way guys defend him, sometimes there are three guys hovering around him, two or three guys, and they box him out on the glass and play him physical, a lot of different ways. You would, because he's that level of talent. You're not going to allow Ivan Rabb to beat you. Somebody else has to beat you, so I think, for me, I wish he could have seen more one-on-one play, because he's spent so much time working on his skills, his footwork, his speed and all of that, but he can't showcase it because of the way teams defend him."
In the tournament last year, Rabb went 9-of-11 from the field for 21 points, and pulled down 15 rebounds, but Rakocevic is stronger, and savvier, this year.
"I thought he was always tough enough, even last year, I thought he was tough enough," Martin said of Rakocevic. "You could see his potential. I think what he's doing now, he's posting up more, being more aggressive, as opposed to Drew [Eubanks]. Drew can make the perimeter shots, but now they allow [Rakocevic] to post up, and he gets doubled and Drew can make perimeter shots. Not that [Rakocevic] can't make shots, but it frees up Drew somewhat, that he's able to score around the rim. I just think they use him more from the standpoint that he's a physical presence. I don't know too many guys who are stronger than he is, in this league. Now, it's a matter of him scoring around the rim. He's a strong kid."
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