Opener Will Be Offensive Test for Cal, Northridge

Photo: Mike Montgomery will enter his third year as Cal's head coach. Last season, he led the Bears to their first Pac-10 championship in 50 years but his core group of seniors graduated.
Anna Hiatt/File
Mike Montgomery will enter his third year as Cal's head coach. Last season, he led the Bears to their first Pac-10 championship in 50 years but his core group of seniors graduated.

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When the Cal men's basketball team takes to the floor for its first regular season game of the 2010-2011 campaign, it will be staring at a team with comparable inexperience, at least in terms of scoring the ball.

After coasting to a 30-point exhibition victory over Sonoma State last Wednesday, the Bears welcome Cal-State Northridge (0-1) to Haas Pavilion to open up a difficult non-conference campaign.

Much like Cal, the Matadors lost a large chunk of their production to graduation after the 2009-2010 season. The one returning starter is forward Lenny Daniel, a shot blocker who led the Big West with 1.44 blocks per game last season. Daniel was also third in the conference with 7.8 rebounds per game.

Daniel's defensive presence may deter the Bears from trying to establish a heavy load of points in the paint, but coach Bobby Braswell's squad will need to improve their scoring effort if they hope to spoil Cal's return to the hardwood.

In its 83-50 loss at UCLA to open the season, Northridge shot a paltry 29-percent from the floor, with no player scoring more than four buckets.

Much like the Bears, there is no identifiable go-to scorer for the Matadors, something Cal hopes to exploit when it takes the floor tonight. Senior Rashaun McLemore led the team with 10 points, but shot only 4-15 from the floor. No other Matador took more than seven shots the entire game.

But the Bears have to solve scoring questions of their own. It's been well-documented that virtually all sources of offense are gone from last season; instead of Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson, Cal will be looking toward newcomers Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin for perimeter scoring.

It's far too early to tell, but preliminary indications are that the option will be Crabbe. The Los Angeles native impressed in his first outing, a 106-76 exhibition victory over Sonoma State last Wednesday. Crabbe shot 6-7 from the field and 4-4 from three-point range, totaling 22 points for the night.

"Allen is very capable," head coach Mike Montgomery said after the game. "He can shoot the ball, there is no question. I think in his mind, he thinks he should never miss, and he's not going to miss a lot of free throws because he is a very good free throw shooter."

Tonight's game is also a match of two heralded coaches rife with experience.

Montgomery is regarded as one of the top coaches in the game, but Braswell had compiled an impressive track record in his 14 seasons at Northridge.

The 2008-09 Big West Coach of the Year, Braswell's squad nearly shocked the college basketball world in the 2009 NCAA Tournament by nearly upsetting the second-seeded Memphis Tigers.

An unrelated but fascinating fact about the Matadors is that they feature the only deaf player in D-I basketball.

A main contributor off of the bench, Michael Lizarraga has excelled in his time in the valley despite deafness. The senior started eight games last season and shot a lights-out 53 percent from the field last year.


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

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