Basketball: Cal ready for first conference road test

The Cal and Saint Mary’s College basketball teams, having largely gorged on home cooking for the first two months of the season, will test the theory this week that defense travels.

The Golden Bears, whose 11-0 record at Haas Pavilion has fueled a 12-3 mark and 2-0 start to the Pac-12 schedule, visits Oregon on Wednesday, then Oregon State on Saturday. The Ducks and Beavers, a combined 17-1 at home, won’t be accommodating.

The Gaels, 13-1 overall and 4-0 in the West Coast Conference, are about to leave the Bay Area for the first time since March. Twelve of their victories have come at McKeon Pavilion to go with a win at Santa Clara and a four-point defeat at Cal. Saint Mary’s should be road-tested Thursday at Loyola Marymount and Saturday at Pepperdine.

No. 25 UCLA traveled last weekend for games against Washington and Washington State teams expected to finish at the bottom of the Pac-12, and lost twice. WCC power Gonzaga won at Santa Clara by two points and needed overtime to escape USF with a victory.

Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said it’s “100 percent” accurate that a good defense is the best company to keep on the road.

“No matter how good a shooting team you are, and we’re pretty good, on the road your margin for error is less and you better cushion yourself with your defense,” he said.

Cal guard Jordan Mathews expects a challenge in Oregon, but added, “We do what we do — move the ball, lock down on defense, just play hard.”

The Bears haven’t allowed any of their past five opponents to score more than 63 points, and they rank No. 8 in the NCAA in field-goal percentage defense at 36.9 percent. Cal is No. 30 nationally in defensive efficiency, according to statistician Ken Pomeroy.

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Basketball: Cal topples No. 21 Utah, 71-58

Some of the best players in recent Cal basketball history were among the 10,188 at Haas Pavilion on Sunday to watch the Golden Bears improve to 2-0 in the Pac-12 with a 71-58 win over No. 21 Utah.

Shareef Abdur Rahim, Leon Powe and Sean Lampley, sitting courtside, got another dose of what is becoming this Cal team’s identity: Defense.

“As long as I’m coaching . . . toughness, play hard and defend,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “When you have a level of toughness, a defensive identity, you have a chance to be very successful.”

Cal (12-3, 2-0) improved to 11-0 at home by holding the Utes to nearly 26 points below their average on 38.5-percent shooting. It was the fifth straight game the Bears’ opponent failed to convert 40 percent of its shots.

“I think our potential is really good,” said freshman forward Ivan Rabb, who had a career-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds. “We’re improving on defense. Everybody on the team is buying in. That’s why we’re playing so well lately.”

Utah (11-4, 0-2) will fall out of the Top-25 after losing at both Stanford and Cal.

Two nights after shutting down Colorado star forward Josh Scott, the Bears did their best to limit Utah sophomore center Jakob Poeltl. The 7-footer from Austria – projected as a first-round NBA draft pick next spring – didn’t make his first field goal until the final 5 minutes of the first half while laboring to a 19-point effort.

The Bears’ tag-team 7-foot duo of Kameron Rooks (6 points, 2 rebounds) and Kingsley Okoroh (5 rebounds, 3 blocks) kept Poeltl from getting comfortable and stayed on the floor even after getting into foul trouble.

“Poeltl’s better than I thought,” Martin said. “I thought Kam and King did another good job. That’s not an easy thing to do.”

Guard Jordan Mathews, whose three second-half 3-pointers keyed his 14-point performance, said the Bears are learning to count on their two big men.

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Basketball notebook: Cal big men face another tall order in Utes’ 7-foot center Jakob Poeltl

Another elite Pac-12 big man is visiting Haas Pavilion on Sunday afternoon.

This time, it’s 7-foot sophomore Jakob Poeltl of Austria, who will lead No. 21 Utah into Berkeley two days after the Utes (11-3, 0-1) were upset 70-68 in overtime at Stanford.

They will be ready for the 4:30 .m. tipoff (Pac-12 Networks).

So will Cal (11-3, 1-0), based on what we saw Friday night in an impressive 79-65 win over Colorado.

The challenge that night was slowing 6-10 senior forward Josh Scott, who entered the game averaging 18.4 points and 9.4 rebounds. Coach Cuonzo Martin needed his big men to accomplish the task largely 1-on-1 so that the Bears’ perimeter players could stay close to three CU guards who shoot better than 40 percent from the 3-point arc.

Thanks to strong efforts from 7-footers Kameron Rooks and, especially, Kingsley Okoroh off the bench, the Bears fulfilled that game plan. Rooks and Okoroh limited Scott to 4-for-16 shooting and Colorado made just 3 for 11 from deep.

Asked about the team’s defensive improvement, Martin said, “We’re getting there.”

CU coach Tad Boyle was unhappy with his squad, but impressed by the Bears.

“I knew coming into this game that this was going to be a game about toughness,” he said afterward. “We got beat in every phase of the game.”

The assignment may be tougher still against Poeltl, who is regarded as a first-round NBA draft pick if he elects to leave school next spring.

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Football: Cal signs 4-star wide receiver

Melquise Stovall, a consensus four-star wide receiver from Paraclete High in Lancaster, has signed a financial aid agreement with Cal and becomes the ninth member of the Bears’ 2016 recruiting class who will arrive on campus for the spring semester and be available to participate in spring workouts.

Stovall, a 5-foot-9, 185-pounder (listed by Scout as 5-7 1/2, 177) , is projected as an inside slot receiver for the Bears. He is among three receivers who will enroll at midyear and compete for openings at a position where Cal is losing five seniors.

Rated as the No. 3 all-purpose player by both 247Sports and Rivals, Stovall totaled 4,785 all-purpose yards during his three-year high school varsity career. Stovall played on both sides of the ball and as a senior scored 14 touchdowns, including at least one rushing, receiving, returning a kick, a punt and an interception.

He caught 46 passes for 740 yards and five TDs this fall, along with 450 rushing yards and six more scores.

As a junior, he totaled 2,455 all-purpose yards — 1,603 of them rushing — and scored 24 touchdowns.

Stovall had offers from every Pac-12 school except Stanford and Oregon, according to Scout, along with Miami and Notre Dame. He committed to Cal on Dec. 21.


Basketball: Cal’s defense smothers Colorado


Cal showed off a glimpse royalty in its Pac-12 Conference opener against Colorado on Friday night at Haas Pavilion.

Sophomore center Kingsley Okoroh – known by his teammates as simply King – came off the bench to deliver the performance of his career as the Bears beat the Buffaloes 79-65 in front of 9,964 pleased and surprised fans.

Okoroh, who had scored just five points all season, posted a career-high 10 to go with five rebounds and four blocked shots and helped set an aggressive defensive tone that put the Buffaloes on their heels from the start.

“I tell the guys, we defend and it doesn’t matter who’s on the floor,” coach Cuonzo Martin said, “because every time down when those guys are struggling to get a shot off, to even get a pass, then you’ve done your job.”

Martin said he saw Okoroh’s progress in recent practices.

“Coach Martin has always had confidence in me. I just have been inconsistent,” Okoroh said. “Today I finally showed what I can do. I hope to keep doing that.”

Cal (11-3, 1-0) led by 23 points with less than 6 minutes left on the way to its 10th home victory without a loss.

The Buffs (11-3, 0-1), whose only two previous losses came against top-25 teams Iowa State and SMU, arrived in Berkeley averaging 83 points per game. But they missed their first nine shots, trailed 10-0 and never recovered.

The Bears try to build on their strong conference start when they play Sunday evening against a No. 21 Utah squad that was upset 70-68 in overtime at Stanford on Friday night.

Cal, which won for the seventh time in its past eight games, was led by 22 points from junior shooting guard Jordan Mathews, who missed all four of his 3-point tries in the first half, then hit five straight in the second half.

Freshman Jaylen Brown added 17 points and 11 rebounds and point guard Tyrone Wallace contributed 16 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.

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Basketball: Cal braces for big man Josh Scott and potent Colorado squad in Pac-12 opener

Big man Josh Scott will only be a piece of the challenge for Cal (10-3) on Friday night when Colorado (11-2) visits Haas Pavilion in the Pac-12 opener for both teams.

Tipoff is 8 p.m. (Pac-12) Networks.

Scott, a 6-foot-10 senior, is second in the conference with an 18.4 scoring average. He’s shooting 62.3 percent from the field and grabbing 9.4 rebounds per game. He’s blocked 24 shots.

“Yeah, but that’s expected,” Cal coach Cuonzo Martin said of Scott’s performance, “I just think the other guys, the way they’re shooting the ball, the things they’re doing, makes them a tougher team to defend. We expect Josh to be Josh.”

The “other guys” include three players ranked among the top eight in the Pac-12 in 3-point accuracy: sophomores Dominique Collier (.487) and George King (.460) and junior Josh Fortune (.429), a transfer from Providence.

“Good team, they’re playing well,” Martin said. “If you double the post, they find the shooters.”

That means 7-foot center Kameron Rooks likely will get the man-to-man assignment on Scott while 6-11 freshman Ivan Rabb matches against 6-9 junior forward Wesley Gordon.

Martin said he’s pleased with the improvements Rooks has made, especially on defense.

“He wants that challenge — he wants to guard whoever’s the best guy,” Martin said.

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Football: Tony Franklin praises Jared Goff for work ethic that elevated him to `elite status’

No one on the Cal football staff worked more closely with Jared Goff on a day-to-day basis than offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tony Franklin.

Franklin was visiting family in New York on Thursday and unable to be on hand for Goff’s announcement that he is entering the NFL draft. Franklin offered his thoughts and sentiments in a statement:

“I am excited for Jared and his family as they move into their next challenge. I include his family because I firmly believe that Jerry and Nancy have played an integral role in molding Jared into one of the best quarterbacks to ever play college football. But more important is how they raised him to being a really good human being with a heart and soul that all parents should strive for their children to possess.

“It has been a beautiful adventure traveling this journey with Jared and watching him develop from a skinny kid — who was extremely well-coached in high school — to a young man with elite leadership skills that blended perfectly with his physical talent. Jared worked diligently to master his craft.

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Football: Cal quarterback Jared Goff has known for a while it was time to enter the NFL draft

Jared Goff said he’s known since midseason that he was ready to enter the NFL draft, but that didn’t make it any easier when the Cal junior quarterback announced his intentions Thursday morning.

At a news conference at Memorial Stadium, with his parents and family members in the audience, Goff was uncharacteristically emotional as he talked about his plans and thanked all those who contributed to his prolific college career.

“All the people that have had an impact on me, it’s kind of hard to put into words. That’s why I’ve been a little emotional,” said Goff, fighting off tears. “Thinking about all my teammates and all the fun we’ve had. But I’m definitely excited.”

A 21-year-old from Marin, Goff is rated as one of the top two NFL quarterback prospects in this class and projected to be a high first-round draft pick.

Jerry Goff, a Cal alum and former major league baseball player, said Jared’s decision was “foregone conclusion” even before the bowl game. But watching his son take the next step toward his football dreams hit him hard, too.

“I got a little emotional. It’s stuff you always think about, but when you see it . . . it’s a little surreal,” he said. “I’m happy for him and excited and anxious and all the other words for his future.”

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Football: Jared Goff schedules Thursday news conference, expected to announce he will enter NFL draft

Cal junior quarterback Jared Goff will hold a campus news conference Thursday at 10 a.m., when he is expected to announce he will forgo his final year of college eligibility and enter the NFL draft.

Goff, 21, has consistently declined to publicly discuss his future. He said after the Bears’ 55-36 win over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl that he would discuss matters with his parents and have an announcement.

Every indication is that Goff – who set Pac-12 Conference single-season records for passing yards and touchdowns and is projected as a high first-round pick – will make the jump.

A source said the news Thursday morning will surprise no one.

Cal coach Sonny Dykes conceded the decision may be fairly clear for Goff.

“Look, the way I see this thing is if he’s got an opportunity to be one of the top draft picks or the first quarterback taken in the draft, then I don’t think there’s much of a decision to make, quite frankly,” Dykes in Tuesday’s post-game news conference.

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Basketball: Cal’s hopes of winning Pac-12 title rely on much more than merely talent

The hype and hope that earned Cal a preseason No. 14 ranking by the Associated Press had everything to do with talent. The Bears returned with all-Pac-12 point guard Tyrone Wallace and welcomed five-star national recruits Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown.

But if the Bears want to fulfill their potential as the Pac-12 schedule begins Friday, coach Cuonzo Martin said, “It’s not about talent.”

It’s about effort and toughness and defense, and Martin saw none of that over Thanksgiving weekend, when the Bears lost twice in Las Vegas. They allowed 44 second-half points to San Diego State, then 94 the next day to Richmond.

Cal has regrouped since that lost weekend, winning six of seven. The only blemish: A 63-62 overtime loss at No. 5 Virginia. Most importantly, the Bears embraced defense.

In seven December games, they’ve held opponents to 35.7-percent shooting and 59.9 points per game – an average of nearly 16 points per team below their normal output.

Bob McKillop, who has coached at Davidson for 27 seasons, called the Bears’ defense “extraordinary,” after Cal’s 86-60 win on Monday night.

There are at least a half-dozen contenders for the top spot in the Pac-12. If the Bears aspire to get there, it won’t just be about talent.

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