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Fourth-seeded Golden Bears soldier on despite distractions

Cuonzo Martin said he wants to focus only on what he can control in his team’s upcoming NCAA tournament game against Hawaii.

Pity for the California coach, then, that so many more pressing matter require his attention.

The fourth-seeded Golden Bears (23-10) have attained the highest seed in school history. Yet of the 24 questions asked Martin and his players during Thursday’s press availability, 19 of them were either related to a recently dismissed assistant coach or even more recently injured player.

The Golden Bears’ exuberance at their March Madness selection and favorable seeding was quickly quelled by the news earlier this week that assistant coach Yann Huffnagel was dismissed after a school investigation determined he repeatedly tried to solicit sex from a female reporter.

The storm clouds gathered as questions arose about how much Martin knew about Huffnagel’s conduct, and whether the successful head coach would be able to survive the scandal.

Then Cal’s leading scorer, all-Pac-12 Conference senior point guard Tyrone Wallace, broke his hand in Wednesday’s practice, almost certainly ending a career that he extended by foregoing the NCAA draft last year for a shot to play in the NCAA tournament.

“We’re not irked at all,” Cal’s Jordan Mathews said. “It’s part of life. Things happen. But inside those lines, those 94 feet of basketball, the plan doesn’t change. We came here to win a ball game.”

Without Wallace, the Golden Bears will turn to backup point guard Sam Singer to lead a roster that remains stocked with talent. Freshman stars Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb have futures in the NBA, and Cal should still get plenty of wing scoring from Mathews and Jabari Bird.

Although the Golden Bears may enter their tournament tasked with blocking out an uncertain future, their opponent, Hawaii (27-5) knows exactly how its long-term prospects look: grim.

The team found out early this season that it will receive a postseason ban next year, and scholarship reductions for the next two seasons, as punishment for infractions committed by a former coach.

So it’s a good thing the Rainbow Warriors made the postseason this year, and now they’ve got to make the most of it.

“We went from uncertainty to clarity, neither of which were very good,” first-year coach Eran Ganot said. “But in the meantime one of the easiest things to say, hardest things to do, is to control what you can control. But we have done a good job of that.”

The hot-shooting Warriors led the Big West in field-goal percentage (46.2), rebounding margin (4.7) and steals (7.9), and ranked second in field-goal percentage defense (39.8) and blocked shots (3.8).

Stefan Jankovic, the Big West Conference player of the year, has scored 20-plus points nine times. Guard Roderick Bobbitt led the conference in steals (2.2) and assists per game (5.5).

The Golden Bears hold a 12-1 all-time advantage over the Rainbow Warriors, who have never won an NCAA tournament game. But only one UH team had won 27 games before, and never as a member of the Big West.

“I think our goal this year was just to make it to that tourney and hopefully, do some damage in it,” Hawaii’s Aaron Valdez said. “We did a great job in that tournament, keeping our heads on and not letting it distract us. So we just got to keep doing it.”


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