A pair of non-conference teams seeking a seventh win in eight opportunities take the floor in Berkeley on Sunday as the California Golden Bears entertain the 21st-ranked UNLV Runnin' Rebels at Haas Pavilion.
Up until last weekend the Golden Bears were flying high with their unblemished record after six games, but then a meeting with Wisconsin on the road changed all that as California suffered an awkward 81-56 setback. Had the team managed to slip by the Badgers, it would have marked the first time since 1959 that Cal had kicked off a campaign with seven straight wins.
As for the Runnin' Rebels, they too have won six of their first seven games of the new season, their defeat coming at the hands of Oregon (83-79) back on Nov. 23. Since then the squad has ripped off four straight victories, the latest coming against Portland on the road Tuesday in a 68-60 final.
The Runnin' Rebels lead the all-time series between the teams by a count of 4-1, taking the most recent meeting last season at the Thomas & Mack Center, 85-68 a couple days before Christmas.
Against Portland Mike Moser did not suit up, still nursing a hip injury, and Anthony Bennett got into early foul trouble, which is why the score ended up being as close as it was. UNLV trailed by six points at the break and then opened up the offense a bit more in the second half, but it was a 13-1 scoring edge at the charity stripe over the final 20 minutes that put the visitors into the win column. Bennett scored 18 points, Anthony Marshall 16, while Justin Hawkins came off the bench to offer up another 15 points for a team that shot a mere 35.5 percent from the floor and 6-of-25 beyond the arc. Should Moser again be out of action on Sunday, Bennett (18.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Marshall (10.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg) will have to make up for his presence in the paint where he is generating 12.3 ppg and 9.2 rpg. Certainly the fact that the Rebels have as many as five players on the roster averaging double-digit scoring can go a long way in compensating for a lost piece of the puzzle.
California didn't appear to be ready to play the Badgers at all last week, the visitors making a total of just 10 field goals in the first half and missing their lone 3-point attempt over the 20-minute span. The second half saw the Bears make just eight field goals, preventing any chance of the team making it competitive. Allen Crabbe managed to come up with 25 points and seven rebounds, while Justin Cobbs tacked on 11 points, while being charged with seven of the unit's 23 turnovers. One of the top point producers in the country at this early stage of the season, Crabbe is pouring in 22.4 ppg on the strength of 52.5 percent accuracy from the field and 43.2 percent effort beyond the arc. As someone who is responsible for close to six rebounds per game, Crabbe is no stranger to physical play either, and has responded by connecting on all but five of his 40 free-throw attempts. Cobbs (18.7 ppg) is also a precise shooter from the floor (.589) and at the charity stripe (.891) as the pair accounts for more than half of the team's 72.0 ppg right now.