Game #1: UC Riverside (0-0) vs. California Golden Bears (0-0)
Location: Haas Pavilion
Date: November 11th, 2004 (scheduled for 7:30 PM PST start time)
1st Round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic (start time for St. Marys vs. Belmont is 5:30 PM PST at Haas Pavilion)
A Look at the UC Riverside Highlanders:
UCR Coaching Staff
Head Coach: John Masi (26th Year)
Assistants: Rick Croy, Ethan Hamilton, Bryant Moore
Projected Starting Five (returning starters in bold; 2003-04 statistics):
PG - Larry Cunningham 62 190 RS Fr; Downey HS, Downey CA - 2003 All CIF guard who is an explosive athlete
SG - Rickey Porter 63 180 Jr; (7.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.2 apg, 37% 3-Ptr) - Started 10 of 28 gms in 2003-04; Top shooter
SF - Matt Benson 66 205 Jr; (4.3 ppg, 0.8 rpg) - Chico native who averaged 12 mpg during first season at UCR
PF - Vili Morton 68 250 Sr; (12.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 59.9% FG) - 5th year senior; top returning starter
C - Klaus Schille 611 225 Jr; (2.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg) - Avg. 9 mpg last season and 17 mpg during his frosh season
PG - Brett Ost 61 175 Sr; (1.5 ppg, 1.1 apg) - Avg. 13 mpg during 1st season at UCR; prepped in the Sacramento area
PF - David Jobe 68 240 Sr; (1.9 ppg, 1.6 rpg) - Reserve player who prepped in the Bay Area and played 2 yrs at DVC
SF - Steve Williams 65 195 Jr; Poudre HS, Fort Collins CO - Played 1 year at Laramie CC and 1 year at Eastern Utah
PF - David Misko 610 225 Jr; Lindsay HS, Lindsay CA - Two seasons at College of the Sequoias avg 6 ppg & 3.5 rpg
PG - Justin Bell 510 165 Jr; Escondido HS, Escondido CA - Led Saddleback to JC Final Four and Elite 8 in 2 seasons
The UC Riverside basketball program is taking the right steps. The Highlanders have been competing as a Division I team in the Big West Conference since 2001, and after a number of successful seasons under head coach John Masi, the program reached 11 wins last year - winning 7 in league play. UCR found terrific success at the Division II level, finishing 2nd in the 1995 NCAA Division II Tournament and 3rd during the 1989 NCAA Division II Tournament. After finishing 9th in the Big West standings over their first two seasons, UCR tied for 5th place last season. The highlight for the Highlanders was their inaugural opportunity to participate in the Big West Conference Tournament (teams joining a new conference have a probationary period before they become eligible to play in the conference tournament). UCR seized the moment by knocking off a team that beat them twice during the regular season, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, in the opening round.
"There is an entirely different mindset this year," said Coach Masi. "These kids have a different work ethic, a different approach to the game. They have demonstrated it with their work during the summer and fall."
Like their West Coast rival Cal Poly, UC Riverside brings a similar style of play to the court. Not only do both teams compete in the same conference they have similar rosters and performers. It was just one year ago when the Mustangs were breaking in a point guard while adding a half-dozen newcomers. UC Riverside will be doing the same - although they will be redshirting three of their recruits. Overall, the Highlanders lost four of their top six scorers including four starters. Coach Masi, who was also a student-athlete at UCR back in the 60s, added some young athletic prep talent and combined those frosh with a few veteran junior college players. Hell play anywhere from eight to 10 guys per game.
As similar a power forward as youll find to Varnie Dennis, Cal Polys four-time all-Big West selection, is Vili Morton, UCRs top inside talent. The 5th year senior from Twentynine Palms is a wide body who can create space and score from close in. Morton, whose first name is actually William, is one of two experienced D-1 veterans on the Highlanders roster and is certainly UCRs go-to guy in the post. Last December, Morton put up 22 points at Pauley Pavilion against UCLA on 10 of 13 shooting.
"I am hoping Vili regains the form of his sophomore year, where he was in the top 10 in the country in three categories," said Coach Masi. "I expect him to be an all-conference player and I am sure he does as well."
Vili broke his right foot at some point last season and played the entire year with the injury before finally being diagnosed with the fracture after the Big West Tournament. He spent his summer in a walking boot. Morton is already the Highlanders all-time career leader in blocked shots (161) and hell be the main scoring option for Coach Masis club in 2004-05. UCR truly needs a big year from Morton as the only other options in the post are Klaus Schille, a German native who has three starts in his two year UCR career, and limited scoring upperclassmen reserves David Jobe and David Misko. Jobe is always a crowd favorite for UCR because of his heart and hustle. Hes an effort guy. Schille is more of a defensive big man but has supposedly added a few offensive moves to his repertoire.
On the wing the Highlanders are very inexperienced. Transfer Steve Williams will likely backup returning junior Matt Benson, who spent his first season at UCR last year. Benson, a Chico native who attended prep school at Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut prior to attending the College of the Siskiyous, had a nice start to his UCR career averaging 7.8 ppg during the non-conference schedule. However, the sophomore went flat after that scoring just 44 points during the entire conference season (17 total games). Like Cal Polys Nick Enzweiler, Benson exclusively shoots from behind the arc. Nearly 85% of his shots (86 of 102) came from three-point land so hes a bomber. Williams, a transfer from Eastern Utah is also another perimeter oriented wing.
Perhaps the best athlete to land at UC Riverside in a number of years is redshirt freshman Larry Cunningham. The youngster from Downey sat out last year to build more strength and has reportedly won the job from senior Brett Ost and JC transfer Justin Bell though theres no way to be sure. Cunningham, who might remind some fans of Cal Polys point guard Kameron Gray, has big-time hops and can score in a variety of ways. He played the point primarily in high school but due to his athleticism could slot to the shooting guard spot if Coach Masi decides to go with more of a true point guard. Cunningham was the San Gabriel Valley co-Player of the Year in 2003 and will give Highlander fans something fun to watch over the years. If UCR goes with Ost, a Sacramento area native who actually started eight games a year ago, theyll likely sub in Cunningham as one of the first off the bench. Justin Bell had a solid junior college career at Saddleback JC in Southern California and prepped against Cal juniors Rod Benson and Martin Smith during his high school career in Escondido. Hell likely back up Ost.
Starting alongside Ost or Cunningham is shooting guard Rickey Porter, a redshirt junior who is now in his 4th season as a student at UCR. Porter had a solid prep career at Mater Dei HS in Santa Ana helping the Monarchs to the 2001 California State Championship and #1 national ranking (along with former Cal center Jamal Sampson). He was the captain during his final two seasons at Mater Dei and combined with Wesley Washington (who is likely to play in the Pac-10 next year at Oregon State) as a deadly shooting combo. Porter has never really developed a good handle shown by his 33 assists and 33 turnovers last year and still needs to move around the perimeter better. He did start 10 games though and is a quality catch and shoot guard. Expect Porter to take a number of shots this season. Benson, Cunningham, and Porter are the main three point threats for the Highlanders.
"I am sure our players feel that they can compete with any team on our schedule," said Coach Masi. "But the big question is can we play amore consistent brand of basketball in a given game, or over a stretch of time, to get over the ups and downs."
A look at the California Golden Bears:
Cal Coaching Staff
Head Coach: Ben Braun (9th Year)
Assistants: Louis Reynaud, Joe Pasternack, George Nessman
Projected Starting Five (returning starters in bold; 2003-04 statistics):
PG - Ayinde Ubaka 63 200 So; (6.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.9 apg, 25% 3-Ptr) - Led team in assists; Avg nearly 30 mpg
SG - Richard Midgley 6'2 210 Jr; (10.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, 35% 3-Ptr) - 2-year starter; Top 3-point shooter
SF - Marquise Kately 65 220 So; (10.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.2 spg, 53% FG) - Finished 9th in FG% in Pac-10
PF - Dominic McGuire 69 215 So; (4.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg) - Led team as a frosh with 22 blocks during the 2003-04 season
C - Rod Benson 610 215 Jr; (2.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg) - Finished 3rd with 15 blocks and 7th in points during sophomore year
PG - Martin Smith 511 170 Jr; (1.8 ppg, 0.7 rpg, 1.0 apg) - Competed in 23 of 28 games as a walk-on last year
PF - David Paris 69 245 Jr; (1.5 ppg, 0.8 rpg) - Averaged 5 minutes in 22 of Cals 28 games
SF - Eric Vierneisel 67 200 Fr; Jacobs HS, Algonquin IL - Led HS team in ppg, apg, and rpg; 3rd team all-State
PF - DeVon Hardin 610 235 Fr; Newark HS, Newark CA - Athletic PF who averaged 13 ppg, 12 rpg, and 4.4 bpg
PF - Kevin Langford 69 215 Fr; North Crowley HS, Fort Worth TX - Avg. 19 points & 12 boards for #1 TX HS tm
The Bears match up with the Highlanders quite well with the obvious mismatch being the talented Marquise Kately squaring off against juniors Matt Benson and Steve Williams. Defensively, Kately has the speed and the perimeter skills to completely shut down UCRs wings and three- point shooters while still being effective on long rebounds. Offensively, Kately should have few problems getting into the lane and scoring. Kately could wind up with 15-20 shots and 10 or more trips to the free-throw line; a picture-perfect preview of what his sophomore season statistically should be like.
In a battle of junior backcourt leaders, Richard Midgley and Rickey Porter square off as their teams shooting guards. Both move around the same pace and last year shot 35% and 37% percent from the arc respectively. Since the Bears have more scoring options though, Porter could put up more threes then Midgley in this contest.
The most intriguing match-up will be Highlander power forward Vili Morton versus Cal sophomore Dominic McGuire. In what will be another tell-tale sign for the Bears during the 2004-05 season, the phenomenally athletic McGuires re-adjustment to the post position (where he played in high school) will be tested right off the bat against the heavier Morton. Both players are quality shot blockers and while McGuire will be defending a larger player, hes had plenty of practice time banging against a similar body-type to Morton in Cal junior power forward David Paris. Due to the match-up, expect Paris to see plenty of defensive time against Morton. Vili has to shoulder the load down in the post for UCR while proving hes over his foot injury. When matched-up with Morton on the offensive end, McGuire will likely use his speed to try and pull Morton away from the hoop. Dominic certainly has the talent and opportunity to average a true double-double this season as hes the Bears best rebounding presence. While McGuire still has to prove himself theres no mistaking the talent he has.
"Dominic has a nose for the ball," said Coach Braun. "Hes taken pride in his skills to rebound the basketball. Hes determined."
In some of the other match-ups, Cals center frontcourt combination of Rod Benson, David Paris, and DeVon Hardin will face off with Schille, Jobe, and David Misko. Both teams will play some zone defense for looks but expect the teams to predominantly play man-to-man. Ayinde Ubaka and Martin Smith have a tough test dealing with a youngster theyve probably never seen before in Larry Cunningham but with 3 years of combined experience under their belt now, they have a distinct advantage over the Highlanders (only Ost has played a D-I game to this point). Cal will also rotate freshman Eric Vierneisel into the backcourt and look for Eric to score. Hes over his ankle injury and will play Thursday night. Additionally, DeVon Hardin will play after suffering a mild-concussion in Cals lone exhibition game on November 2nd. Hes more than ready to go.
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