Bears Prepare for Amazing Aztecs

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After Bak Bak notched career highs of 12 points and six rebounds in the Cal men's basketball team's 74-62 win over UC Davis, head coach Mike Montgomery labeled him a "confidence guy" and that he's "probably more comfortable at home."

Even with unlikely contributors like Brandon Smith and Nigel Carter making important plays on the road against Iowa State on Saturday, it probably surprised even Montgomery that Bak completed a three-point play and subsequently forced a steal in the game's waning seconds to seal the Bears' 76-73 win over the Cyclones.

With No. 14 San Diego State arriving tonight for a 7:30 p.m., tipoff at Haas Pavilion, Cal's confidence will need to be at its peak if they hope to survive its toughest non-conference test to date. But according to Bak, the Bears are ready. Perhaps more importantly, Bak is ready.

"It's going to be a really tough one," Bak said. "Since we won the Iowa State game everybody is ready to play San Diego State. If we play the same way I think we can win."

Rife with athletic, physical big men, the Aztecs are probably the best team in California this season. Veteran coach Steve Fisher's squad has already knocked off formidable non-conference foes Gonzaga, St. Mary's and Wichita State, none of which have lost to an unranked team.

With nagging leg injuries to center Markhuri Sanders-Frison, Bak may see more minutes because of Sanders-Frison's trouble moving around the floor. The senior is coping with a sore left Achilles and has developed planter's fasciitis in both of his feet. The best cure for both injuries is extended rest, but with bigger opponents like San Diego State and Southern Mississippi arriving this week, there is no rest for Sanders Frison's weary legs.

Sanders-Frison will still likely log major minutes tonight, but a lot of that will be contingent on his ability to move on defense. Both he and Montgomery admitted that his defense was lacking on Saturday because of his inability to effectively hedge on the perimeter.

"I missed several hedges which led to easy buckets," Sanders-Frison said. "It's not like I was out of shape. I was just in so much pain that the sliding was killing me."

That's where the likes of Bak, Richard Solomon and Allen Crabbe become very important. The Aztecs have three players taller than six-feet-seven - Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White - that all average at least nine points and four rebounds per game.

"We're going to have to be very diligent at point of attack because they will isolate you," Montgomery said. "Thomas is very quick and is a very tough matchup. White has very long arms as well and is a very tough matchup ... They also defend very well. They are very long and they close on shooters. We'll have to use shot fakes and use the extra pass"

Crabbe will be saddled with the task of guarding Leonard, a standout sophomore that was named to both the preseason Wooden and Naismith watch lists and is averaging 16.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Montgomery referred to him as "maybe the best player on the West Coast."

A product of basketball factory King High in Riverside, Calif., (Cal already faced another King product, New Mexico's Tony Snell, this season), Leonard is one of the most versatile threats in the country. Quick to the boards and able to score from anywhere on the floor, Leonard will provide the biggest defensive test for freshman Allen Crabbe this season.

"(Crabbe) is going to have his hands full," Montgomery said. "If that's the matchup then he's going to have to figure out how to block off in a hurry. Leonard gets to the boards; he is really good."


Gabriel Baumgaertner covers men's basketball. Contact him at [email protected]

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