Cal men’s basketball prepare for season opener against UC Riverside

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“What happens is, now Kingsley goes into the next game with a lot of confidence,” said Cal men’s basketball head coach Wyking Jones. “He comes to practice with a lot of confidence, and that’s always a good thing.”

Jones was referring to the ripple effects that will come from Cal basketball’s senior center Kingsley Okoroh’s triple-double in the Bears’ exhibition win over Providence on Monday — effects that could help to lead to a win for Cal in its season opener Friday night against UC Riverside.

The Highlanders had a similar showing to that of the Bears in their own exhibition match against Stanislaus State — down to the exact number of points scored by the victor. Both Cal and Riverside put up 81 points in double-digit wins against clearly overmatched opponents. Now, the first true test comes for the Bears as they face a fellow Division I opponent.

In their exhibition game, the Highlanders were led offensively by redshirt senior guard Chance Murray, who scored 19 points in the contest. That sort of performance comes as no surprise — last season, Murray averaged more than 10 points per game, and he is the Highlanders’ go-to ball handler. Murray is explosive off the dribble with a strong ability to drain midrange pull-up jumpers as well as drive and dish.

The Bears played a zone defense against Providence, and they’re going to have to be more disciplined closing out and tracking players if they want to shut down Murray’s explosive playing style. There’s no doubt that Okoroh and fellow senior Marcus Lee can defend at the rim if need be, but Cal’s guards shouldn’t rely on that last line of defense, especially with Murray’s ability to draw out defenders and find the open man with a slot pass inside.

On the other end of the court, the Bears are going to have to be more explosive on offense. Against Providence, Cal relied heavily on the aptitude of individual players to formulate its own scoring chances, but against a more-disciplined defensive team, the Bears are going to have to move the ball more quickly as a team in order to expose holes in the Highlanders’ defense.

The Bears have the personnel to make that fast-paced style of offense work. With two strong bigs in Lee and Okoroh, Cal should have no problem dominating Riverside in the paint — but both those seniors have to consistently finish at the rim and not rely on second-chance scoring opportunities off of their own misses.

Once the Bears’ guards got going against Providence, they definitely showed that they have the capability to contribute solid numbers to Cal’s score line — Don Coleman put up 20, Darius McNeill 8 and Deschon Winston 7 of his own. They will, however, have to be more disciplined and calm against Riverside, particularly when it comes to shot and pass selection.

If Cal’s game against Providence was meant to give an indication of the Bears’ capabilities, their game against the Highlanders will serve as either a verification or nullification of those capabilities. After the departure of so many of the Bears’ key pieces, this will be the first real glimpse of what this year’s team has to offer. In other words, it’s game time.

Sophie Goethals is the assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected]