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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Cal’s Bears peaking on strong play from Powe

    The California Golden Bears have come a long way since sustaining a two-point loss to hapless Eastern Michigan in their first game of the season.

    For starters, stud sophomore forward Leon Powe, the Pacific 10 Conference leader in points and rebounds is up to his old tricks after missing the first four games of the season. Powe, who Arizona junior forward Ivan Radenovic called “”a beast,”” averages 19.4 points per game and scored a career-high 32 points in Cal’s 65-62 win over Stanford Thursday.

    The Bears (15-6, 9-3) are making a strong late season run at the NCAA tournament by winning their last five games, four of them by less than three points.

    “”I think Powe’s presence has a lot to do with that,”” Arizona head coach Lute Olson said. “”But I think (junior guard Ayinde) Ubaka has had a big influence on how they have done down the stretch. He has done really well, and he has been an excellent under-pressure point guard.””

    Ubaka, Cal’s second leading scorer at 15.3 points per game, is one of only two Bears that have played in every game this season. The steady force on the Cal team, Ubaka has an assist-to-turnover ratio that’s almost 2-to-1.

    “”We’ve persevered, and we’ve made some significant improvements since the last several weeks, and sometimes it takes your team to get knocked around a little bit to expose the things you need work on,”” Cal head coach Ben Braun said. “”Every game hasn’t been pretty, but I think it’s just been a matter of surviving and believing in ourselves.””

    (Cal forward Leon Powe creates) a lot of problems. He’s a great player, he’s strong … so we’re going to have to do a job on him.
    – Kirk Walters,
    junior center

    Cal has been without sophomore guard Omar Wilkes (9.0 points per game) for one game after he turned his ankle prior to playing Stanford, and Wilkes will be questionable for Thursday. Senior forward Rod Benson, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last season, has been missing in action since Jan. 20 and is also a game-time decision tonight. “”Rod’s returned to practice, and he has been cleared to practice, and now we’re just monitoring how much that will mean in terms of clearing him to play,”” Braun said.

    In the last meeting between the teams, a 60-55 Arizona win Jan. 21 in Tucson, the Wildcats were not able to contain Powe, despite constant double teams.

    “”(He creates) a lot of problems,”” junior center Kirk Walters said. “”He’s a great player, he’s strong, he offensive rebounds great, so we’re going to have to do a job on him and keep him to as little points as possible.””

    Powe scored 23 points in the meeting on 8-of-12 from the field, but his teammates shot 3-of-16 from 3-point range – uncharacteristic for a team that shoots 39 percent from beyond the arc.

    “”They have a big inside presence, and we need to defend that better, and that’s what we learned,”” freshman forward Marcus Williams said. “”We … need to continue what we’ve been doing, making their big men work on the defensive end.””

    Braun said the Bears have capable scorers alongside Powe and Ubaka, but sophomore forward Devon Hardin (four points in first meeting) and senior guard Richard Midgley (scoreless) have been playing other roles.

    “”Sometimes it’s deceiving when you say we have one guy scoring or two guys scoring, we’ve got some other guys capable of scoring,”” Braun said. “”I believe Richard Midgley is a capable scorer, but Richard’s just been playing another role for us, and he’s been playing it awfully well.

    “”If you discount Richard, he can score, if you discount Omar Wilkes, he can score, and if you don’t pay attention to Devon Hardin, he can score, so I think we have some capable guys.””

    The Bears have lost 13 of their last 14 games to Arizona including five of their last six at Haas Pavillion.

    Despite being injury riddled and surviving games rather than beating up on opponents, the Bears have built themselves quite a steady NCAA tournament resume, climbing to No. 53 in the RPI and garnering enough votes for a No. 26 national ranking.

    “”Now, going up to California, there is not a much more talented team in the league than Cal is,”” Olson said.

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