After a forgetful season-opening pounding at UCLA, the Matadors continue their tough non-conference schedule when they travel north to face the defending Pac-10 regular season champions UC Berkeley at Haas Pavilion tonight.
When CSUN head coach Bobby Braswell was reminded that his young team’s second opponent of the season will be the Golden Bears in their season opener, he comically responded.
“The freshmen got their first Division I game under their belt at Pauley Pavilion and now we get an easy one. We get to go to Cal next week and play another Pac-10 opponent,” said Braswell jokingly, after his team got crushed 83-50 Friday against the Bruins.
With eight freshmen on the roster and two Pac-10 foes to start the year, Braswell said a couple weeks ago the team will struggle, but is hoping the first-year players will grow from the rough schedule in the long run.
On the bright side for the Matadors, the Golden Bears are also a young team with six freshmen and four sophomores.
Berkeley, who was picked to finish seventh in the preseason Pac-10 media poll, won its first regular season conference title in 50 years last season, but lost four starters.
Head coach Mike Montgomery reloaded with a stellar freshman class that includes highly recruited Allen Crabbe from Price High School in Los Angeles.
Crabbe, a 6-foot-6 guard, led the Golden Bears with 22 points in their victory over Sonoma State in an exhibition game Wednesday. In his senior year at Price, Crabbe was selected as the 2010 Gatorade Player of the Year and was ESPN’s California State Player of the Year.
Also, Cal picked up 6-foot-2 Gary Franklin, who was ranked No. 14 among point guards by ESPN. However, Montgomery hasn’t given the first-year player the keys to the offense.
Junior guard Jorge Gutierrez will be Cal’s starting point guard. The native from Chihuahua, Mexico is known for his tenacious defense and was named to the Pac-10 All-Defensive Team last year.
One Matador who is all too familiar with the Golden Bears is redshirt junior guard Vinnie McGhee, who grew up in Oakland wanting to play for Cal.
“I work out at Cal a lot during the summers, so I’ve been in the facility a lot working on my jump shot,” said McGhee, who played prep basketball at McClymonds in Oakland.
McGhee faced Cal guard Brandon Smith, who went to De la Salle, a few times in high school. McGhee has been looking forward to the matchup since the schedule was released.
“All my family will be there. I want to make it a special game,” McGhee said. “I’m going to play hard and try to do my assignment and make the open shots.”
Matador senior forward Michael Lizarraga is also from Northern California and was a standout player at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont, which is south of Berkeley and Oakland.
Lizarraga, who is the only deaf basketball player in Division I basketball, will have plenty of his friends and family making the commute from Dixon, California to Haas Pavilion.
In order for McGhee and Lizarraga to have a sweet homecoming, forward Lenny Daniel said CSUN will need to make adjustments after getting run out of Pauley Pavilion.
“We need to be prepared to play and not fall to a huge deficit again,” Daniel said. “I felt like we got smacked in the face, but we need to move on.”