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Struggling Cal a welcome sight for Washington State team still seeking first Pac-12 win

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 12, 2018, 8:54 p.m.

California’s Don Coleman dribbles against Washington in the first half last  Thursday in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
California’s Don Coleman dribbles against Washington in the first half last Thursday in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

PULLMAN – There isn’t a team in the Pac-12 Conference struggling more right now than Washington State, which has seen last year’s turnover issues resurface in a four-game skid to open league play.

So maybe the Cougars will be relieved to see a California team enduring many of the same troubles, both in the win and turnover column.

Whenever it happens, WSU (8-8, 0-4) will be the last team in the Pac-12 to pick up a conference win. Just by gazing at the remainder of the schedule, one might tend to think Saturday’s 1 p.m. showdown with the Golden Bears will be the Cougars’ best chance.

Cal (7-10, 1-3) possesses the worst overall record among Pac-12 teams and since opening league play with a 77-74 win over Bay Area rival Stanford, the Golden Bears have lost three consecutive games by a combined 51 points. And it’s worth noting the Stanford win came on the heels of a 25-point loss to Portland State.

WSU opened the Pac-12 season with losses to the L.A. schools, Washington and Stanford, but the Cougars have been right on the brink of winning a few of those games. They led the Huskies by three points in the closing minutes last Saturday and trailed the Cardinal by four points in the last 2 minutes of Thursday’s 79-70 loss.

Had the Cougars shown a closing touch in either game – also in nonleague contests vs. UTEP and Kansas State earlier in the season – they’d presumably be over the 10-win barrier heading into the third week of league play.

WSU coach Ernie Kent is confident that will come in due time but believes the only way for it happen is by gaining more experience. The Cougars typically start one sophomore, three juniors – one of them a JC transfer – and one graduate transfer, though only the sophomore, Malachi Flynn, is a returning starter.

“You have faster birthdays, you move the year quicker so they get older, so freshmen turn into sophomores, sophomores turn into juniors, juniors turn into seniors,” Kent said, “and now all the sudden, you’ve got the older, veteran, crafty team that knows how to handle themselves and they’re more composed. As a coaching staff, there’s not a lot you can do. You can’t speed up the process of experience.”

For now, the Cougars can only hope to cut down their turnover quota. WSU, which committed 22 last game after committing 23 vs. UW, is averaging 17.6 over its last five games. Ball security has also been a bugaboo for the Golden Bears, who’ve committed 17.4 turnovers per game over the same five-game span.

Cal is led by junior guard Don Coleman, who scores 18 points per game but matched his season-low against UW with four points. The Bears’ second-leading scorer is freshman forward Justice Sueing, a Hawaii native who moved to California in high school so he could play for L.A. power Mater Dei. Sueing averages 13.6 ppg and 5.6 rebounds.

Also on first-year coach Wyking Jones’ roster is Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee and redshirting freshman Jules Erving, the son of NBA legend Julius Erving.

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