Smith Faces Beaver Defense That Slowed Down Randle

Photo: Center Markhuri Sanders-Frison leads the Bears in field goal percentage (.597) and rebounds per game (7.9). Cal sits atop the Pac-10  in defensive rebounding percentage.
Anne Marie Schuler/File
Center Markhuri Sanders-Frison leads the Bears in field goal percentage (.597) and rebounds per game (7.9). Cal sits atop the Pac-10 in defensive rebounding percentage.

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How does Brandon Smith know he's stepped up for the Bears? From the opposition, for one thing.

After a recent Cal basketball game, the sophomore point guard stumbled upon his own scouting report on the other squad's sideline.

"They said: 'looks to be aggressive, must keep him out of the lane and stop penetration,'" Smith said at Tuesday's weekly press conference. "So I thought, 'OK, at least I'm a threat.'"

Indeed, the San Ramon, Calif., native and De La Salle High School product has been making the most of increased playing time since working his way into the team's starting rotation. Smith racked up a career-high nine assists in an 88-81 overtime upset of Washington State, and chipped in 12 points (including a pair of 3-pointers) during last Saturday's 68-66 victory at USC.

"He didn't play much last year, so you're not talking about a guy with a lot of experience in conference, but he's done a pretty good job," coach Mike Montgomery said. "I think against USC, if he finishes it up, he has a real good game He certainly has had his moments; I think he does stabilize us."

As Cal (10-9, 3-4 in the Pac-10) opens up a four-game home stand at Haas Pavilion with tonight's 8 p.m. tilt against Oregon State (8-10, 3-4), the Bears will certainly need Smith's stability quarterbacking the offense. Craig Robinson's squad kicked off the season in disastrous fashion - with non-conference losses to the likes of Seattle, Texas Southern and Montana - but the Beavers are always dangerous because of a pesky 1-3-1 trap zone that gets them 10 steals per game.

Oregon State has been a particularly frustrating foe for Montgomery's Bears, holding Cal to just 61 points per game while taking three of the last four contests. The key to the Beavers' success was slowing down the normally explosive Jerome Randle, who mustered just 10.8 points per game on 35 percent shooting against Oregon State over the past two seasons.

"I think (the Beavers' defense) got into Jerome's head a little bit, took away some off the things he likes to do," Montgomery said of his former point guard. "I think it took him off his rhythm in terms of where he gets his shots and where he likes to get his shots. Brandon has been pretty good at handling that kind of stuff."

On the offensive end, Oregon State is paced by versatile guard Jared Cunningham, who has made his living around the rim. The 6-foot-4 Oakland native averages 14.3 points per game, and has garnered YouTube fame for his spectacular put-back slam over Arizona's Jesse Perry. That same game, a 76-75 upset in Corvallis, Ore., Cunningham got to the free-throw line 11 times.

"Very, very explosive," Montgomery said. "(He's) playing a with a lot of confidence."

After taking on the Beavers, the Bears return to action on Saturday for a 3 p.m. match-up with Oregon. The Ducks (9-10, 2-5) started November with just eight scholarship players after a tumultuous offseason, but have won two of their last three for new coach Dana Altman.

Ed Yevelev covers men's basketball. Contact him at [email protected]

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