When the Cal men’s basketball team takes the floor at Haas Pavilion on Monday afternoon, it will mark 275 days since the blue and gold last hosted a game in Berkeley. In an unprecedented year that has seen postponed practices and last-minute schedule changes, the Bears will finally find some sense of normalcy as they attempt to defend their den against Nicholls State.
Cal comes home from a two-game road trip to Corvallis sporting a 1-1 record, but the Bears are looking to make it two straight victories against a hot 2-0 Nicholls State squad. As Cal tries to find its footing early on in the season, this matchup could go a long way in setting the tone for the Bears, who enter Pac-12 conference play later this week with stints against Arizona State and UCLA.
The Colonels are a versatile team and have earned every part of their first two victories this season. Led by head coach Austin Claunch, the youngest head coach in the NCAA, Nicholls State has won its games on both ends of the floor — a 101-point explosion against UC Davis that signaled the team’s first 100-point outing versus a Division I opponent was followed by a defensive clinic against Idaho State in which the Bengals were held to just 51 points.
But it would not be smart for the Bears to mistake the Colonels’ youth for a lack of experience. If this game shifts in favor of the red and grey, look out for redshirt junior Ty Gordon and senior Kevin Johnson to be the reasons why. Gordon, in his first year as a part of the Nicholls State program, has led the Colonels in scoring in each of their first two games. Before moving to the Bayou State, Gordon averaged 12.1 points at Troy, good enough to claim a co-leading scorer title. Johnson has made his presence felt on the other end of the floor, nabbing five and six steals against UC Davis and Idaho State, respectively.
If Cal hopes to build upon the 12-5 home record it compiled last season, it will need to turn to a combination of newcomers and veterans to get the job done. Junior guard Matt Bradley is clearly the first option in head coach Mark Fox’s offense, but graduate transfers Ryan Betley and Makale Foreman have carved out roles of their own thus far. Betley had a game-high 14 points in the Bears’ Thanksgiving feast over Northwest and has poured in six shots from deep over two games this season. Foreman scored 10 apiece in his first two games at Cal but also flashed his play-making ability, dishing out six assists on Thanksgiving.
The lineup for Monday’s game against the Colonels is yet to be announced. But after Fox found success with an overturned lineup that saw Foreman, Kuany Kuany, and D.J. Thorpe starting, expect Cal to roll with a similar starting five.
Regardless of who is starting for the Bears, it is clear that everyone will need to step up in their respective role. In Cal’s early-season games, it has found ability shining throughout the lineup, a promising sign for Fox in his second season in Berkeley. Against Nicholls State, Fox and fans alike should hope for that ability to keep shining bright.
All that Fox and his players can do is take it one game at a time. But if the Bears want to be a formidable force at home again this season, their campaign starts against the Colonels.
Kabir Rao covers men’s basketball and is a deputy sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].