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Basketball: Russ Critchfield to get Newell award

When Russ Critchfield was contacted by Cal athletics, he misunderstood and thought the caller was from an athletic equipment store.

“I was waiting for his pitch,” Critchfield said.

Turns out he was informed he was receiving the Pete Newell Career Achievement Award.

“I’m really excited, honored, certainly humbled,” said Critchfield, 68, who will be recognized during ceremonies Monday when Cal plays No. 5 Wisconsin at Haas Pavilion.

Critchfield, in is 17th season as head basketball coach at Butte College – the JC that spawned former Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers – was a prolific sharp-shooting guard for the Bears from 1965-66 through 1967-68.

The 5-foot-10 native of Salinas averaged 22.0 points as a senior, 21.0 as a junior. He still sits 12th on Cal’s career list with 1,437 points and his 19.4 per-game average is third all-time (behind Ed Gray at 20.0 and Mark McNamara at 19.6).

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Basketball: Strengh of schedule sinks Cal’s RPI

At 9-1, Cal is among 11 teams nationwide with the best records (minimum 10 games).

At the top is Kentucky, 11-0, top-ranked all season in the AP and, finally, according to RealTimeRPI.com.

Where do the Bears reside on the list ranked by the computer?

Not particularly high. At No. 95 in the RPI, Cal is 10th among those 11 teams, ahead of only Notre Dame, whose 10-1 record is good for a No. 143 RPI rank.

The key variable, of course, is strength of schedule. And Cal’s is weak: No. 274.

But that’s about to change. The Bears face Eastern Washington (No. 41 RPI) on Friday, then take on Wisconsin (No. 17) on Monday. Win or lose, merely playing those teams will elevate the Bears in the computer rankings.

If they get a split, better still.

If they sweep, expect a huge leap.

Here’s how the 11 teams with the best record after a minimum 10 games sit in the RPI ratings:

1. Kentucky 11-0 (No. 5 strength of schedule).

6. Arizona 10-0 (49)

14. Villanova 10-0 (73)

17. Wisconsin 10-1 (36)

26. Northern Iowa 9-1 (113)

36. West Virginia 9-1 (102)

38. Maryland 10-1 (94)

44. Miami 10-1 (162)

73. TCU 10-0 (291)

95. Cal 9-1 (274)

143. Notre Dame 10-1 (322)

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Football: Bears land DE, OT — await word from DBs

Cal’s big recruiting weekend has netted two oral commitments so far, but as of this writing still hadn’t gotten the nod from any of at least five defensive back prospects who were on campus.

Another position of needs is defensive end, where 3-star JC prospect DeVante Wilson of Riverside JC committed after flipping from Washington State, according to Scout.com. A native of Corona, Wilson is 6-foot-5, 245 pounds.

Cal also got a commitment from 6-4, 285-pound offensive tackle Nick Buchanan of Dunwoody HS in Georgia.

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Basketball: Wallace powers Cal’s rally past Princeton

Tyrone Wallace scored 20 of his 23 points in the second half and Cal rallied from a nine-point deficit at the break to beat Princeton 67-57.

The Bears improved to 9-1, equaling their start to the 2001-02 season.

Cal has not had a better start to its season since — get this — the 1959-60 season, when the Bears won 28 of their first 29 games before losing in the national championship game.

But the Tigers of the Ivy League gave the Bears a serious scare for a while. Cal, which scored just 15 first-half points on Wednesday in a win over Wyoming, trailed 37-28 at halftime in this one. Princeton led by as many as 11 points midway through the first half.

The Bears used a 15-2 run to battle back from a 44-36 hole to a 51-46 lead with 4:06 left after a dunk by Wallace.

The junior guard, who has made a recent habit of strong second-half performances, also had eight rebounds, three assists and two steals. Wallace is averaging 22.0 points over the past five games.

Senior David Kravish scored 11 points and became the 42nd player in Cal history to top 1,000 career points.

Christian Behrens and Jordan Mathews each scored 12 for the Bears, who played their fourth straight game without sophomore guard Jabari Bird (foot). In fact, coach Cuonzo Martin essentially used a seven-man rotation, with only Dwight Tarwater and Roger Moute a Bidias making more than token appearances off the bench.

Cal is off until next Friday, when it continues its homestand against Eastern Washington, which is 8-1 with a road win against Indiana. The Eagles visit unbeaten Washington on Sunday night.

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Football: Big recruiting weekend for Bears

A huge recruiting weekend for the Bears, who have at least 11 prospects on campus, including five defensive backs, according to Scout.com.

Topping the list is Frank Buncom, a 4-star safety from St. Augustine HS-San Diego, who is rated the No. 7 prospect nationwide at his position by Scout. Others in pursuit of the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder include Duke, Notre Dame, Stanford, Oklahoma and Vanderbilt.

Also visiting Berkeley is Nathan Meadows, a 6-2,180-pound 3-star safety from San Gorgonio. He also is being recruited by Notre Dame, Boise State and UCLA.

Another 3-star prospect on campus is Chris Williamson, a 6-1, 185-pound cornerback from Gainesville, Ga. Williamson, who caught 52 passes for more than 1,000 yards as a wideout in Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin’s system, also has suitors from BYU and Cincinnati.

Brandon Stewart, a two-star cornerback from Trinity Valley JC-Athens, Texas, and Christian Taylor a safety from Jersey Village HS-Houston, also are in the Bay Area.

Others making visits are defensive end DeVante Wilson (3 stars) from Riverside HS, wide receiver DePriest Turner (3 stars) of Murphy HS-Alabama, tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhee (3 stars) of North Gwinett HS-Suwanee, GA, and offensive tackle Nick Buchanan (no stars) of Dunwoody HS-Dunwoody, GA.

Two players who already have given Cal oral commitments also are visiting this weekend: quarterback Ross Bowers (3 stars) of Bothell HS-Bothell, Wash., and defensive tackle Luc Bequette (2 stars) of Catholic HS-Little Rock, Ark.

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Basketball: No first-year coach in the country having more early success than Cuonzo Martin

Here is one thing we are learning about first-year Cal coach Cuonzo Martin: The man is relentlessly positive about his team, regardless of what he has just watched.

After Wednesday’s 45-42 win over Wyoming, in which the Bears’ offense struggled through a 36.5-percent shooting night and scored just 15 first-half points, Martin was in no mood to pick apart the team’s performance.

He no doubt went back to practice a day later determined to smooth out offensive execution. But immediately after the game, Martin was all about the bottom line.

“I just want to win,” he said.

So far, Martin is doing that better than any of the 47 first-year Division I coaches across the country. So far, the evidence suggests the Bears hired the right man.

Cal’s 8-1 record exceeds that of any team with a new coach running things.

In fact, it’s not even close.

Through games played on Thursday, in fact, only 12 of the 47 had coaxed winning records from their teams. Two of the new coaches are still waiting for their first victory and 13 more had just one or two wins. This isn’t terribly surprising, given that most newcomers are replacing coaches who were fired for poor performances.

After Cal, the next-best record for a team with a new coach belongs to Houston at 4-1 under former Washington State/Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson.

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A win over Princeton (3-7) on Saturday night would give Martin the best start by a new Cal coach since Todd Bozeman won 11 of his first 12 as a mid-season replacement for Lou Campanelli in 1992-93. Bozeman, with a minor assist from Jason Kidd, helped lead the Bears into the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament, which got the interim tag removed from his title.

The Tigers of the Ivy League own a 69-54 win over San Jose State, but are off to their worst 10-game start in six seasons. By comparison, they were 9-1 at this point a year ago.

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Basketball: Cal-Wyoming game thread

Great defense or gruesome offense?

Whatever the answer, it added up to a 45-42 victory for Cal over Wyoming on Wednesday night in front of an announced crowd of 6,648 fans at Haas Pavilion.

Cal’s point total was its lowest in a victory since a 43-41 win at Washington State on Feb. 23, 2006. No complaints from coach Cuonzo Martin, whose team improved to 8-1, the program’s best start since 2001-02.

“I just want to win. Doesn’t bother me at all, not at all,” he said after his team shot 36.5 percent and scored just 15 first-half points. “It wasn’t terrible offense at all. We continue to make progress defensively.”

The Bears, who have been at their best this season when able to play up-tempo basketball, did not score a transition basket until Tyrone Wallace dunked off a Wyoming turnover with 22.7 seconds left for a 43-39 lead.

Sam Singer then scored on a subsequent fastbreak layup, before Charles Hankerson made a 40-foot, 3-pointer at the horn for the Cowboys (8-2).

Martin knew this would be a tough, low-scoring game. Wyoming held Colorado to 33 points in a victory earlier this season.

“There’ll be nights when the shots don’t fall because the other team is real good defensively,” he said. “You have to find different ways to win the game.

“You have to defend and rebound. I thought we did that.”

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Basketball: Ex-Cal star Christopher signs with Jazz

Patrick Christopher, a key player on the first Cal team in 50 years to win a conference championship, was signed as a free agent Wednesday by the Utah Jazz after a strong start to the season with the NBA D-League’s Iowa Energy.

Christopher, 26, averaged 12.7 points for his Cal career, including 15.6 as a senior in 2009-10 when the Bears went 24-11 and won their first conference title since 1960.

He was averaging 15.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists this season for the Energy. A 6-foot-5 wing, Christopher had had three 20-point games this season.

He also played for the Energy last season, averaging 13.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists, and earning second-team all-defensive team.

Previously, he spent the 2012-13 season playing professionally in Turkey and the 2011-12 campaign in France.

Christopher becomes the fourth former Cal player on an NBA roster this season, joining Ryan Anderson of the Pelicans, Jorge Gutierrez of the Nets and Allen Crabbe of the Trail Blazers.

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Football Cal’s future schedules

Here are Cal’s future nonconference football schedules:

2015 – Grambling State Sept. 5; San Diego State Sept. 12; at Texas Sept. 19

2016 – South Dakota Sept. 3; at San Diego State Sept. 10; Texas Sept. 17

2017 – at North Carolina Sept. 2; Weber State Sept. 9, 1 TBA

2018 – North Carolina Sept. 1; at BYU Sept. 8; Idaho State Sept. 15

2019 – San Jose State Sept. 14, at Auburn Sept. 21, 1 TBA

2020 – TCU Sept. 5, Auburn Sept. 19, 1 TBA

2021 – at TCU Sept. 11, 2 TBA

2022 – 3 TBA

2023 – at San Jose State Sept. 16, 2 TBA