Cal, Washington State men’s basketball each vying for first conference win

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Editor’s note: All facts and stats are accurate as of 1/16/2019

Thursday night will mark the ultimate battle of the bottom, as Cal men’s basketball (5-11, 0-4) and Washington State (7-9, 0-3) fight for their first conference victory. The two teams are the Pac-12’s clear basement dwellers, with Washington State sitting just above Cal in the conference rankings.

The Cougars, who began the season with an encouraging 7-3 start, are currently on a six-game losing skid. While the team came close to pulling off the win against New Mexico State, Wazzu was blown out of the water by Colorado, falling by 32 points.

Creating some light amid the darkness, senior forward Robert Franks and freshman forward C.J. Elleby have been strong spots for the Cougars.

Leading his team with an average of 22.1 points per game, Franks is shooting 52.4 percent overall and 33.8 percent from behind the arc. His health leading up to the game is uncertain, however, as he was forced to sit the past four games out because of a hip injury, and his absence has certainly been felt.

Elleby is making a name for himself in his first season as the team’s leading scorer, but his .83 assist to turnover ratio is far from desirable in a star player. Senior Viont’e Daniels, though, averages 3.75 assists per game and tops the Pac-12 with his 3.21 assist to turnover ratio.

Washington State doesn’t compete at quite the same level as Cal’s past handful of opponents, especially without Franks, but it certainly won’t be an easy game for the Bears, who are on a five-game losing spree themselves. The Cougars also have a clear history of stronger performances in Pullman. They beat Cal last season by 25 points in Pullman and have yet to drop a home game this season.

After sitting two games out because of his ankle injury, Cal junior Paris Austin returned back to the court in Cal’s last game against Arizona.

Despite playing 35 minutes, Austin only managed to notch 8 points, two rebounds and two assists against the Wildcats. Austin’s 8 points marked his second lowest of the season. Stepping up to the plate, sophomore Justice Sueing posted a season-high 27 points.

There have been some close games between these two teams in the past. In Cal and Wazzu’s final encounter of last season, the Bears fell by 2 points when then-graduate student Drick Bernstine made a game-winning layup with 1.7 seconds remaining in the game.

Although the Cougars perform significantly better on their home court, the Bears quite possibly have their best opportunity of the season to notch a conference win, if Franks is unable to play. To do so, it will be important for Cal to create and maintain a defensive presence and ensure Austin is reworked into the Bears’ offensive plan.

Surina Khurana covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @surina_k.