Bears End Hiatus With St. Louis Showdown

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If Cal men's basketball coach Ben Braun had his way, his team would not be playing its first game in two weeks tonight against St. Louis.

The Bears would not have had a stretch of 14 idle days, and they would not have spent this past Saturday playing each other, trying to simulate a real game.

That's because Braun - still furious with the Preseason National Invitation Tournament committee for making the Bears travel to and play Texas less than 48 hours after winning their opening game - had high hopes of spending the Thanksgiving holiday in New York, contending for a tourney title.

But those hopes never materialized, and instead, Cal (1-1) will try to shake off any rust accumulated in the past two weeks when it takes on the Billikens at 5 p.m. tonight at the Savvis Center.

"When you don't play for a stretch, there's always an adjustment," Braun said. "(But) I really believe to get our team to play on the road early is important. Last year, we had a lot of home games, and sometimes you get a false confidence just playing home games."

St. Louis (2-1) made national headlines during last season's Conference USA Tournament. The eighth-seeded Billikens stunned the country by upsetting No. 1 Cincinnati in a game made famous when Bearcats star Kenyon Martin broke his leg.

The Billikens then romped past Tulane and DePaul to capture the conference tournament and the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, where they rode the leadership of then-senior Justin Love to a near-upset of Utah in the first round.

"Justin was such a good scorer, and scored so easily, it was hard not to give him the shot," St. Louis coach Lorenzo Romar said. "In the Conference USA Tournament, he averaged 25 points a game and carried us on his back."

Leading the way for Saint Louis this season are guards Maurice Jeffers and Marque Perry. Jeffers is pacing the Billikens with 12 points per game, and ranks second on the team with five rebounds a contest.

But the real surprise has been the play of the 6-foot-1 Perry, who entered the season as a question mark after dislocating his ankle late last year. Perry has shown no signs of the injury, however, and is averaging 11.7 points in a team-high 32 minutes per game.

Romar likens his sophomore guard's style of play to that of former UCLA point guard Tyus Edney - only Perry stands two inches taller and is 20 pounds heavier.

"He's very quick, he's one of those guys that can break your defense down and open up the game for us," Romar said.

While Love's departure has left the Billikens without instant offense, Romar pointed out that St. Louis is a more balanced team because of it. The consistency of Perry and Jeffers has especially allowed the Billikens to develop a successful inside game.

Forwards Justin Tatum and Matt Baniak round out the four St. Louis players averaging double-digits in the scoring column. Braun stressed that the mobility of the Billikens' big men will have the Bears scrambling on defense.

"Their post guys all have the ability to step out on the floor and knock down shots, which is something that concerns me," Braun said. "It makes our post guys a little more vulnerable. They need to move their feet."

As for Romar, he is not only concerned with guarding Bears' forward Sean Lampley, but center Nick Vander Laan as well.

"As tough as Lampley is, Vander Laan is kind of his watchdog," Romar said. "He goes in there and just kind of protects him and makes his job a little easier."

The play of Cal's frontcourt will be crucial if the Bears hope to come away from St. Louis with a victory.

"Rebounding, eliminating second shots - those are the things we're working on," Braun said. "Our attention to detail, our focus, are always areas of concern."


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