Brandon Smith’s play on the court has gradually boosted his confidence.
He got an unexpected lift recently when one of his teammates found a scouting report that an opposing team left in the arena after a game.
“I was curious: I wonder what they said about me,” Smith recalled. “It said, `Looks to be aggressive, let’s keep him out of the lane, stop penetration.’ I thought, `OK, at least they know I’m a threat.’ ”
Increasingly, the sophomore point guard from De La Salle High is providing a complement to an offense featuring four other players who routinely score in double figures.
In nine games as a starter, Smith is averaging 6.9 points, 4.1 assists and just 2.4 turnovers while shooting 40 percent from the 3-point line.
Smith will have his hands full this afternoon against an Oregon team expected to throw a 1-2-2 zone press at the Bears. The Ducks squeezed 18 turnovers out of Stanford in a 67-59 win on Thursday.
Coach Mike Montgomery generally has been pleased by Smith’s play.
“He certainly has his moments. I think he does stabilize us,” Montgomery said. “He does the handling, which allows the others to do what they do. He didn’t play much last year, so you’re really not talking about a guy with a lot of experience at this level. But he’s done a pretty good job.”
Smith had a career-high nine assists in Cal’s win over Washington State and scored 12 points in the victory last weekend at USC. He had seven assists and five points in the Bears’ 85-57 rout of Oregon State on Thursday.
Montgomery sets the bar high, and Smith had a bad 20 seconds during last Saturday’s win at USC, turning the ball over, then missing two free throws inside the final minute.
“If he finishes it up at SC, he has a real good game. He just made a couple mistakes at the end,” Montgomery said. “He’s been pretty solid out there.”
Montgomery still isn’t entirely happy with Smith’s decision-making.
“Sometimes he looks to shoot when I think he should be looking to pass, but again, he doesn’t have a lot of experience in what he can and can’t get,” Montgomery said. “He’ll get better at that.”
Smith knows his place and he understands who’s the boss. Still, he’s willing to defend himself.
“What opponents say about me or not, I know my game, what I can do, what I can’t do. And I’m going to play that,” Smith said. “I know sometimes coach will get mad at me for putting up a shot or other decisions I make.
“I’m ultimately under his authority, but sometimes I’m able to see stuff on the court that he can’t really (see) on the sideline. Sometimes you’ve just got to make a play and play instinctual basketball.
“It’s something I’ve had success with and I’m going to continue to do within the framework of the offense.”
OREGON SCOUT: Under first-year coach Dana Altman, formerly of Creighton, the Ducks are playing a wide-open style featuring pressure defense. Cal can expect to see another zone defense . . . Oregon doesn’t have great size, but senior PF Joevan Catron has been effective and is the team’s most consistent player, despite recently battling a strained left calf . . . Freshman PG Johnathan Loyd has a nagging ankle injury that could limit his play against the Bears. If he cannot go, junior Malcolm Armstead would get the call . . . The Ducks dropped non-conference games at home to San Jose State and Idaho, and had lost six in a row after being swept on a trip to Washington. But they have won three of their past four, most recently beating rival Oregon State and Stanford on the road. The win at Maples Pavilion was their first after 24 consecutive road losses to the Cardinal.
MONTY ON THE DUCKS: “They’re playing really hard. They’re really running around. They play a lot of small guys — they don’t have a lot of big guys. They’ll open the court up and drive and kick. They’re pressuring on made (baskets). They’re 1-2-2, three-quarter court (press), back to zone. But they’re consistent with it. They really hustle in the zone. They’ve kind of got some hybrid stuff going on with a little bit of matchup principles. He’s got ‘em really playing hard.”
THE SERIES: Cal leads 76-65. The Bears won all three meetings last year, averaging 83.0 ppg vs. the Ducks, and have taken the past five games in the series. Montgomery is 32-9 all-time vs. the Ducks.
ETCETERA: Jorge Gutierrez’s career-high 11 assists vs. Oregon State were the most by a Cal player since Ayinde Ubaka had 12 vs. the Beavers four seasons ago . . . Among those expected to watch today at Haas Pavilion: Oakland HS senior guard and Oregon signee Jabari Brown . . . Oregon has not completed a sweep in the Bay Area since the 1975-76 season.
TIPOFF: 3 p.m. Saturday at Haas Pavilion. TV: CSNCA. Radio: 910-AM.
Cal (11-9, 4-4)
|PF Harper Kamp||6-8||Jr.||14.6||5.4|
|C Markhuri Sanders-Frison||6-7||Sr.||10.5||8.0|
|SF Allen Crabbe||6-6||Fr.||11.5||5.5|
|SG Jorge Gutierrez||6-3||Jr.||12.2||4.4*|
|PG Brandon Smith||5-11||So.||5.2||3.4*|
|F Richard Solomon||6-9||Fr.||5.7||4.2|
|F Bak Bak||6-9||So.||2.7||2.5|
|G Emerson Murray||6-3||Fr.||0.6||0.4|
Oregon (9-10, 4-4)
|PF Joevan Catron||6-6||Sr.||15.4||6.3|
|PF Tyrone Nared||6-8||Jr.||4.7||3.5|
|SF E.J. Singler||6-6||So.||11.5||5.9|
|SG Garrett Sim||6-1||Jr.||8.2||2.4|
|PG Johnathan Loyd||5-8||Fr.||5.4||2.4*|
|G Jay-R Strowbridge||5-10||Sr.||8.4||2.5|
|G Malcolm Armstead||6-0||Jr.||6.6||3.5*|
|F Jeremy Jacob||6-8||Jr.||7.1||3.9|