Bears to experience test from San Diego State backcourt on the road

The Cal basketball team just can’t stay close.

In the No. 24 Bears’ six wins, they have averaged a 21-point margin of victory. In the final of the CBE Classic over a week ago, they lost to No. 13 Missouri by 39.

The embarrassing loss in Kansas City, Mo., was one of only two games Cal (6-1) has played away from Haas Pavilion this fall. This Sunday, the team has a chance to bump up its road record with a 2 p.m. tilt at San Diego State.

“A real good team on the road like Missouri, well, how do we handle, how do we react to that?” head coach Mike Montgomery said. “San Diego State, it’s still a big deal for them to play us … It’s going to be a real competitive game from the standpoint of their preparation, their motivation.”

The Aztecs (7-2) hover just a few spots outside the AP poll, and would likely love nothing more than to swap spots with the visiting Pac-12 squad. Last week, they helped knock No. 24 Arizona out of the polls completely with a 61-57 win in Tucson, Ariz. — a game sandwiched by overtime victories over Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara.

The string is part of an impressive start for Steve Fisher’s squad, which entered the season with plenty of question marks. The longtime head coach guided the program to a 34-win season and a Sweet Sixteen appearance last spring, the best finish in San Diego State history.

A mass exodus muffled the celebration, as star forward Kawhi Leonard jumped to the NBA and three other starters graduated. If the roster misses them, the results haven’t showed.

Both members of the backcourt are scoring over 16 points per game, more than Leonard did a year ago as the team’s leader. Junior guard Chase Tapley has been deadly from long range, sinking half of his 3-point shot attempts, while sophomore guard Jamaal Franklin as emerged as a spark off the bench.

Fisher has also recharged the team by practically looting other programs: Six players started their collegiate careers elsewhere, and only one of them is a JUCO transfer. Starting foward Garrett Green, for example, played three seasons and redshirted another at LSU. Starting point guard Xavier Thames, the Aztec’s third-leading scorer, started four games for Washington State before transferring down south.

“San Diego State’s found a niche in that they’ve gotten kickbacks,” Montgomery said. “They almost recruit to get guys that are bounce-backs … They’re comfortable with that.”

The trip to Viejas Arena will also test Cal’s mettle. The Bears have had the luxury of friendly home crowds; in their latest win over McNeese State — a team that had to travel from Lake Charles, La. — they missed a number of close dunks and lay-ups, inducing groans but no jeers.

“When you’re on the road, you try to dunk the ball and you don’t get it, the crowd just gets all over you. It can really be a momentum changer,” Montgomery said. “I want guys to take shots they can make. It’s about as simple as that.”

An earlier version of this article stated that San Diego State forward Garrett Green played one season and redshirted another at LSU. In fact, played three seasons and redshirted one.

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  • 9 straight pac12 victories for my Aztecs. What’s the big deal?

  • Cnelson_madison

    Pretty funny from a guy who got outcoached and blown out of his own gym last year by 20. I kinda wish we were playing at Haas again this year, it was fun to see the locals squirm when the “this is OUR house” chants were raining down from the Aztec fans.  

  • AztecRon

    Hey author, did you realize the Green graduated from LSU and had one more year to play basketball, hence the transfer? How about some fact check before writing your article.

  • Soliman

    Aztecs owns California in Basketball! like it or not Aztecs are better than UCLA, USC, CAL, Long Beach State, and UC Santa Barbara. Despite we lost all our starters, we are going to beat Cal once again.

  • Phillyaztec

    Having Cal coming to Viejas to face the AZTECS, is sort of like having your frail cousin in-town for a game…

    • Phillyaztec

      You know, the cousin that is embarrassingly arrogant…

  • Phillyaztec

    Montgomery put the “mo” in mo-ron…

  • VonBon

    Sorry, playing Cal is not a big deal for the best college hoops program on the West Coast.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Montgomery.  You know what would be a big deal?  How about the first time a Pac 12 team beats a top tier MWC team this year?  Aztecs are 7-0 against Pac 12 teams in its last 7 games agains them.  Thus, it should be Cal who considers this a big deal.  UNLV, Baylor, Creighton and at Arizona were big deals….Cal…not so much.

  • Anonymous

    The Aztecs are going to own.

  • Bariguy586

    Mr. Montgomery, you realize that your team takes second fiddle to Creighton THIS WEEK when it comes to Aztec opponents?  UCLA is an important game, USC is an important game.  Cal?  If it weren’t for your rating, it would just be another OOC game.  That being said, you are in the Top 25.  When you have a number next to your school name, EVERY game is a big deal.

    And maybe you shouldn’t count players who are sitting out the year like Polee and O’Brian in your number of transfers on the team.  Its not like it will affect Saturday’s game at all.

  • Elidstud

    Mike Montgomery – you sir, are a clown.  Its really not a “big deal” for the Aztecs to play cal.  Remember last year when the Aztecs came to cal and smacked you?  Who was that a “big deal” for?