California-San Diego St. Preview
The lineups that 25th-ranked California and San Diego State will field when they meet at Sacramento's new Golden 1 Center on Monday (11 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks) might bear little resemblance to the players they put on the floor in their last games on Wednesday.
The Bears (2-0) were missing three starters — preseason All-American forward Ivan Rabb (toe) guards Jabari Bird (back) and Grant Mullins (neck) — in their 75-65 overtime victory against UC Irvine.
The Aztecs (2-1) faced a worse situation. They started Wednesday's home game against San Diego Christian with only eight players and at one point were down to six, including one walk-on, by the time they finished off an 81-58 victory.
“They are probably looking for the same thing we are — to get healthy,” Cal coach Cuanzo Martin said, “But that's a great program.”
There is a pretty good chance that many of the injured players will be available on Monday.
All three injured Cal players may be ready to return Monday, and if Rabb plays, it would represent his season debut after he sustained a sprained toe in a scrimmage against St. Mary's three weeks ago.
For San Diego State, Valentine Izundu (ankle) and Matt Shrigley (ankle) could have played Wednesday if the opponent had not been an overmatched NAIA school.
Montaque Gill-Caesar (nose) and Dakarai Allen (ankle) were injured during Wednesday's game, but might return for Monday's game, too.
The outlook for Malik Pope (knee), Max Hoetzel (knee) and Ben Perez (back) is less certain. All three missed the first three games of the season and remain questionable for the game against Cal.
The 6-foot-10 Pope is the key member of that group after starting 16 games last season.
“Malik's making progress,” Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said after Wednesday's game, “but I would term myself 'cautiously optimistic' today that he would have a chance (to play Monday).”
It would have been nice to have those injured players last Monday at Gonzaga, which clobbered San Diego State 69-48 when the Aztecs shot only 28.6 percent from the field.
They were not needed against San Diego Christian, although Fisher nearly ran out of players.
“We had two 13-year-olds as honorary coaches today,” Fisher said after the game, “and at halftime I said, 'John, Jake, do you have tennis shoes?' They looked at me. I said, 'Where do you go to school?' La Jolla Country Day. 'What grade are you in?' Seventh grade. I said: 'I'm putting one of you in. I mean that, I'm putting one of you in.'”
After consulting a rule book, Fisher did not put them in. Jeremy Hemsley had a game-high 23 points for the Aztecs in that game and preseason all-conference selection Trey Kell added 19.
The Bears had a much bigger challenge against UC Irvine, which held a 13-point lead early in the second half.
Cal rallied behind freshman Charlie Moore, a 5-foot-11 point guard from Chicago who scored 38 points, a Cal freshman record and the most points by a Bears player since Jerome Randle, another undersized point guard from Chicago, scored 39 in 2010.
“We didn't want to have any excuses after the game,” Martin said. “You had key guys out, and this is part of the game. You have 13 scholarship guys. You have to make it work with the guys who've been in practice. Probably one of the better wins in my coaching career, just to see guys compete and battle and not make excuses.”
San Diego State, the preseason pick to win the Mountain West Conference title again, won the conference regular-season title by three games last season, but failed to get into the NCAA tournament. A neutral-court win over Cal might help the Aztecs make the Big Dance this season.