Cal men’s basketball seeks second conference win at Washington

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Debbie Yuen/File

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Hoping to avoid sliding down another slippery slope of losses, Cal men’s basketball (7-9, 1-2) looks to break its current two-game losing streak as it heads to Washington (12-4, 2-1) to take on its fourth Pac-12 opponent of the season. This will be the Huskies’ first home game of conference play, and while the Bears are 3-0 on the road, they have the only losing season record in the Pac-12, and could be Washington’s first victims at Alaska Airlines Arena.

Recent history leans in favor of the Bears, as Washington hasn’t beaten Cal since the 2012-13 season, when Cal was missing a few players to injury. Since then, the teams have faced off six times, with the Bears winning them all.

This season, however, has treated the Huskies well. They are 9-1 at home, only losing to then-No. 12 Gonzaga, and they’ve had a strong start to Pac-12 play, pulling off tight wins against USC and Washington State.

Worth noting is that against a Washington State team at the bottom of the conference, Washington only won by 5 points. If the Cougars gave the Huskies a run for their money, perhaps the Bears, currently sitting right above the Cougars in the Pac-12 rankings, stand a chance at pulling off an upset win.

Freshman Jaylen Nowell has made a strong impact in his first season with the Huskies. He leads the team in scoring, averaging 16.3 points per game — an impressive feat for a true freshman. Nowell is also tied for second on the team in assists and third in rebounds, with 2.8 and 3.1 per game, respectively.

Junior guard Matisse Thybulle ranks fourth in the nation for steals and first in the Pac-12, totalling 52 this season. He finished the 2016-17 season with 65 steals and should he continue to average 3.3 per game, he is on track to exceed that tally this season.

Junior forward Noah Dickerson leads the Huskies in rebounds, averaging 7.7 per game, but he and sophomore Sam Timmins, who have racked up 210 boards, don’t quite compare to the senior duo of Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh that Cal has, who together total 221 rebounds.

One weakness that Washington has is the 3-point shot. Junior David Crisp has attempted 92 3-pointers, yet shoots at a clip of only 30 percent. Thybulle follows him with 82 3-point attempts, but connected on a mere 24 shots. If the Bears can hold the Huskies outside the arc, Cal has a good chance at limiting their offense.

While the Bears aren’t the best 3-point shooting squad, they do have freshman Darius McNeill, who shoots around 46 percent from deep. Cal also has four players putting double figures with more than 200 points, with junior Don Coleman leading the way, averaging 18.9 per contest. After these four players, however, comes a steep drop in points, with Okoroh coming up with only 100.

The Bears’ continuous struggle with turnovers, now reaching an astounding 247 this season, or 15.4 per game, has been the deciding factor in many of their losses. The Huskies have a similar struggle with 223 turnovers this season, good for 13.9 per contest. If Cal can keep its turnovers to a minimum and capitalize on the ones that Washington has, it may be able to scrounge up enough points to keep from going under.

In the past few matches, the Bears have been slow to start the game and slow to gain energy. There are many things they can improve on with practice to avoid another losing skid, such as poor shooting and turnovers, but playing hard from the get-go is something that can’t be taught. If Cal can’t get past this hump both mentally and physically, its losing record probably won’t be changing anytime soon.

Sophie Durham covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].