Dating back two seasons, the Cal men’s basketball team has won its past 23 games at home, including all four this season. On Wednesday, the Bears (4-1) will look to extend their home winning streak with a victory over Louisiana Tech (3-2).
Cal enters Wednesday’s matchup having won both of its past two games by double digits. On offense, the Bears have been catalyzed by freshman point guard Charlie Moore, who led the team in scoring in both outings on remarkable efficiency for an undersized high-volume shooter. Against Wyoming, he needed just nine field goal attempts to score 18 points on 55.6 percent shooting. He followed up that performance with 22 points on 13 shot attempts against Southeastern Louisiana.
Moore’s stellar season thus far has kept his team looking competent offensively, but sophomore forward Ivan Rabb will need to assume a larger role if the Bears want to enter the upper echelon. Rabb, projected to be a first-round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, posted double-doubles in all three of the games he’s played since returning from his toe injury. But, it’s clear that Rabb is still assimilating to his new teammates and adjusting to the increased defensive attention that he commands as the presumed focal point of Cal’s offense.
“My gauge is always to defend the ball, play hard and rebound, because the offense part will come,” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin. “He doesn’t have the luxury to relax in games because of his reputation, so he gets defended in a certain way — double-teamed and guys getting aggressive with him — so his looks are really tough.”
At 6 feet and 11 inches, Rabb should have ample opportunities to dominate inside against an undersized Louisiana Tech squad. The Bulldogs’ tallest starter is 6-foot-9 Omar Sherman, while Cal boasts a lineup with Rabb paired alongside 7-foot-1 center Kingsley Okoroh. The Bears should look to get Rabb adequate touches in the paint early on in order to capitalize on this disparity in size. Okoroh’s offensive game is limited, but he’s an adept shot blocker and his height advantage should lend itself to improved rim protection.
The Bears will once again be without junior center Kameron Rooks, out indefinitely with a knee injury, and senior guard Jabari Bird, who will sit out his fifth straight game with back spasms. As arguably the team’s top threat from long range, Bird is a pivotal component of Cal’s offense. In his absence, the Bears have faced a three-point shooting void — which Moore has in part helped fill. Improved perimeter shooting from wings Stephen Domingo (4/21 from beyond the arc this season) and Roger Moute a Bidias can help Cal space the floor.
Despite two early losses, Louisiana Tech has shown its ability to contend against capable teams. The Bulldogs lost by single digits against No. 20 South Carolina in their season-opener and are still undefeated at home. But, they haven’t won a road game yet, and the Bears will look to keep it that way.
Kapil Kashyap covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]