Basketball: Bears prepare to enter fast lane

Here’s the statistical bottom line on the dramatic shift Cal’s nonconference schedule is about to make:

— The four teams the Bears have beaten so far, from the Big West, WCC, MEAC and an independent, have a combined record of 9-8. Two of them have losing records.

— The Bears’ next five opponents are from the Mountain West, Big East, ACC and Big 12 and have lost a combined total of two games. They are in Las Vegas this weekend to face UNLV (5-0) on Friday and either Cincinnati (4-0) or Florida State (5-0) on Saturday.

“Vegas is going to be a good tournament for us,” coach Mike Montgomery said.

Then there’s a home game vs. DePaul (2-0), before road contests vs. Missouri (4-1) and Utah (3-1). Missouri boasts a win over USC.

If Cal goes 3-2 over that span it probably should feel good about itself. Anything beyond that and perhaps Monty’s first Cal team is better than we imagine.

HAPPY WITH WILKES: If junior center Jordan Wilkes isn’t likely to flatten Shaquille O’Neal in an arm-wrestling bout, he’s been quietly productive for the Bears.

The 7-footer is averaging 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and shooting 53 percent from the field in just over 20 minutes per game. Against North Carolina A&T, Wilkes also played a role in helping the Bears break the Aggies’ full-court press attempts.

“He’s our point center. He really is a skilled player,” Montgomery said. “He’s smart, he understands the game, and he had some really nice plays putting it on the floor.”

TO THE MAX: Many of the biggest cheers of the night on Monday at Haas Pavilion were reserved for 7-foot-2 1/2 center Max Zhang, who had three blocked shots, two rebounds and one point in seven minutes off the bench.

“Everybody likes Max,” Montgomery said of the redshirt freshman from China. “He’s such a conscientious kid, he tries so hard.

“We’re trying to get him to use his length. He’s been told for so long he’s not physical enough. That’s not his game. His game is he’s long. He’s getting better but there are times when there’s not a guy for him to match up against.”

BEARS TO LEAVE WEDNESDAY: To avoid traveling on Thanksgiving, Cal will fly to Las Vegas on Wednesday. The team will have holiday dinner together on Thursday, and plays UNLV Friday at 5 p.m. at the Thomas and Mack Center.

Jeff Faraudo