SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — When California believed the off-court distractions were finished, an on-court problem with more immediate consequences arrived.
It hasn’t been the easiest week for the fourth-seeded Golden Bears.
“It’s been a rough week for the team and everything,” Cal’s Jabari Bird said. “But we have had up and downs throughout the whole entire year, so it’s nothing new for us.”
After the Bears saw an assistant coach get dismissed amid sexual harassment allegations and then lost their leading scorer for the season because of an injury, California (23-10) tries to get back to basketball on Friday when it faces 13th-seeded Hawaii in their NCAA Tournament opener.
California’s week started with the dismissal of assistant Yann Hufnagel, followed by questions about whether head coach Cuonzo Martin handled the allegations properly. Just when the Bears believed they could get back to basketball, senior standout Tyrone Wallace broke a bone in his right hand during Wednesday’s practice and will miss the rest of the season.
Individually, they are issues that could derail any team. Collectively, and all happening within less than a week, they’re the kind of distractions that could ruin what’s been a special season for the Bears.
Even with Wallace out, this remains a California roster filled with NBA talent, led by Bird, Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, that won 9 of 11 to close the season and was a matter of seconds from playing in the Pac-12 Tournament title game.
“I just think the difficulty is on the surface. But in our program it’s (an) everyday lifestyle,” Martin said. “And we’ll be talking about with our players, things happen in life, whether it’s basketball, in the classroom, family members. It’s a part of — a bump in the road, you keep moving forward.”
Hawaii (27-5) understands being engulfed by uncertainty. Hawaii was sanctioned for infractions committed under former coach Gib Arnold. Its penalties include a 2016-17 postseason ban, scholarship reductions, and players being allowed to transfer without having to sit out a year.
Instead of crumbling under the sanctions that were handed down early in the season, the Warriors renewed their focus. A team that beat Northern Iowa and took Oklahoma down to the wire became determined to see if it could make a run knowing the Warriors would be stuck at home a year from now.
“I think we earned it,” Hawaii star Stefan Jankovic said. “We have been through a lot as a team, obviously, and the core group of guys, especially, all the different coaches, all the adversity. So we’re just excited.”
Here are things to watch when the Warriors and Bears meet:
BRING ON SINGER: Sam Singer stepped in already once this season when Wallace first went down with a broken hand. He played at least 30 minutes in six of the next eight games, but could not bring the scoring punch that Wallace provided. That will need to be shared among Brown, Bird and Rabb, but Singer must be some type of threat to try to make up for the loss of Wallace.
“He’s a great facilitator. He’s not the scorer that Tyrone is, but he does his job, plays defense, and we’re all behind him,” Bird said.
PLAYER OF YEAR: Jankovic was the Big West player of the year, becoming just the second Hawaii player to win conference player of the year honors. While his scoring was important — the Warriors were 9-0 when Jankovic scored 20 or more points — Hawaii’s ability to control the backboard was more crucial this season. The Warriors were 23-0 when out-rebounding their opponents. Jankovic was the leader at 6.6 rebounds per game.
SCOUTING REPORT: Hawaii was able to get some unique insight into California thanks to its coaching staff. Coach Eran Ganot was previously an assistant at Saint Mary’s and talks regularly with Gaels coach Randy Bennett, who played Cal this season. And Hawaii assistant John Montgomery is a former Cal assistant and son of former California coach Mike Montgomery.
WAKE UP: While the 11 a.m. PT tip time for California is an early call, it’s nothing compared to the body clock adjustments for the Warriors. Friday’s game will tip at 8 a.m. back on the islands and comes after a Big West title game that tipped off at 8:30 p.m. PT. Ganot wasn’t concerned since the Warriors have been on the West Coast for more than two weeks, closing out the Big West regular season on the road before the conference tournament.