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Cal Men’s Basketball Preview: Will the Bears Earn Their First Conference Win at Washington State?

Golden Bears winless since Dec. 22 match against San Jose State

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at California
Justice Sueing is California’s leading scorer, averaging 17 points per game.
Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

After dropping its fifth match in a row last Saturday, the California Golden Bears (5-11, 0-4 Pac-12) travel to Pullman, Wash., hoping for a change in fortune in their contest against the Washington State Cougars (7-9, 0-3 Pac-12). The victor Thursday night will earn their first Pac-12 conference win.

California, six-point underdogs as recently as Wednesday, will look to history as they search for an upset. The Golden Bears boast a 35-31 record in matches contested in the Palouse.

But more telling may be whether Washington State’s players can hold down a stable starting lineup. Washington State Head Coach Ernie Kent has used 10 different starting lineups this season as his players suffer from injuries.

The Cougars have lost 67 percent of the matches when missing one of their key players. Washington State has played 12 games this season without one of their key players — contributing to eight of their nine defeats.

California has not won a conference game since Feb. 3, 2018, and will look to team leaders Justice Sueing, Darius McNeill, Matt Bradley and Paris Austin to help the team change tack. The four Golden Bears have all scored double-figures in conference play against the Arizona Wildcats, Arizona State Sun Devils, UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans.

Projected Washington State Starters

1. Robert Franks, forward: 22.1 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game, 2.9 assists per game

2. CJ Elleby, forward: 16 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game, 2.2 assists per game

3. Ahmed Ali, guard: 7.9 points per game, 1.9 rebounds per game, 2.9 assists per game

4. Marvin Cannon, guard: 7.4 points per game, 3.3 rebounds per game, 0.8 assists per game

5. Viont’e Daniels, guard: 7.1 points per game, 1.9 rebounds per game, 3.8 assists per game

Key Washington State Reserves

1. Isaiah Wade, forward: 6.2 points per game, 3.9 rebounds per game, 0.4 assists per game

2. Carter Skaggs, guard: 8.1 points per game, 2.1 rebounds per game, 0.9 assists per game

3. Jervae Robinson, guard: 5.4 points per game, 1.3 rebounds per game, 1.7 assists per game

Golden Strategies

  1. Limit Robert Franks and CJ Elleby. California has typically been defeated by double-digits this season. The Golden Bears have lost by an average of 14.5 points in its losses thus far. If California Head Coach Wyking Jones wishes to avoid a similar fate Thursday night, they will need to stifle Washington State’s only double-digit scorers. Franks and Elleby also lead their side in double-doubles at five and three, respectively.
  2. Watch out for Viont’e Daniels from downtown. Daniels has 123 career three-pointers or 75 percent of his field goals. Notably, he has scored a three in each of his last 25 matches, and over the previous two seasons, he has only missed from beyond the arc in six games.
  3. Avoid needless fouls against the Cougars. Washington State is effective from the charity stripe. In their Dec. 17, 2018 matchup against the Rider University Broncos, the Cougars racked up 39 points from 51 attempts from the foul line, a school record for free throws made in a single match.

Following the Bears

The contest against Washington State starts at 7 p.m. PT and will be broadcast live on the Pac-12 Networks. PJ Carlesimo and JB Long will provide the play-by-play analysis.