March 10, 2002
California Golden Bears (22-8, 12-6 Pac-10) vs. Penn Quakers (25-6, 11-3 Ivy League)
Friday, March 15, Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Radio: KABL (960 AM)
Time: Approximately 3 p.m. ET/12 noon PT
California earned its 12th bid to the NCAA Tournament this March and will face Ivy League champion Penn in a first-round game Friday in Pittsburgh. The Bears are seeded sixth in the South Region, while Penn is the 11th seed.
The winner of Friday's contest will play the winner of the game between No. 3 Pittsburgh (27-5) and 14th-seeded Central Connecticut State (27-4) Sunday. The regional semifinals and final will be held at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., March 21 & 23, with the Final Four in Atlanta's Georgia Dome March 30 and April 1.
Last year, Cal was the eighth seed in the South Region, but lost to No. 9 Fresno State, 82-70, in the first round at Memphis, Tenn.
In Penn, Cal is playing an Ivy League team for the third time this season. The Bears opened the year by beating Princeton, 70-58, in the first round of the BCA Classic Nov. 15 in Berkeley. Cal also topped Harvard, 69-54, in the first round of the Golden Bear Classic Dec. 28.
The Bears are 1-2 all-time vs. Penn. In their most recent match-up, the Quakers, behind 14 points and eight assists from Michael Jordan, knocked off Cal, 74-71, on Dec. 29, 1999, snapping the Bears' 23-game homecourt winning streak.
Three of Cal's starters from that game two years ago are starters on the current squad - junior forward Joe Shipp, senior center Solomon Hughes and junior point guard Shantay Legans. This season's Bear squad, though, does not revolve around one or two star players, but instead emphasizes a balanced offensive attack and strong defense.
Entering the NCAA Tournament, Cal leads the Pac-10 in both scoring defense (66.4 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (41.8%). In addition, the Bears average 8.00 steals per game and 4.03 blocks, and boast a +4.27 turnover margin.
Individually, Shipp paces the squad in scoring with 14.8 ppg. He is coming off two of his better outings of the season, scoring 18 points vs. UCLA and 25 against Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament. Shipp, who passed the 1,000-point barrier for his career vs. the Wildcats, was the league's Player of the Week in December after soaring for a personal-high 31 points against Fresno State, sinking a school-record nine three-pointers in the process.
At the post, the Bears start a pair of 6-11 players in Hughes and freshman Jamal Sampson. Hughes is shooting a Pac-10-best 58.7 percent from the field and is aiming to become the first Cal player ever to lead the conference two years in a row. The MVP of the Golden Bear Classic after scoring a career-best 19 points vs. Penn State in the championship game, Hughes also ranks second all-time at Cal with 117 blocked shots.
Sampson, a member of the Pac-10 All-Freshman squad, paces the Bears in both rebounding (6.5 rpg) and blocks (1.63 bpg). His season total of 49 blocks ties for the third-highest total in school history. Sampson, a cousin of former Virginia and NBA star Ralph Sampson, was the MVP of the BCA Classic in November and had one game (vs. Washington Jan. 17) when he finished with 15 points, 17 rebounds, five blocks and three assists.
In the backcourt, Legans is completing his third season as a starter at point guard. Two weeks ago at Arizona State, he matched a school accuracy record by draining all four of his three-point attempts on his way to 20 points. Legans also had 22 points in a double-overtime win over Oregon and hit the game-winning bucket to lift the Bears to a 92-91 OT victory at USC.
Junior Brian Wethers gives Cal a versatile player at the other guard position. Not only is he third on the team in scoring at 10.1 ppg, but he has paced the Bears on the glass seven times, including a high of eight rebounds in wins over Stanford and Arizona State.
Cal's top four reserves all average at least 16.7 minutes per game. Amit Tamir, a 6-10 forward from Israel who was voted to the Pac-10 All-Freshman unit, ranks second to Shipp in scoring with 10.6 ppg. His best performance clearly came in the victory over Oregon when he tallied a Cal freshman-record 39 points to earn both Pac-10 Player of the Week and ESPN.com National Player of the Week honors.
Seniors Ryan Forehan-Kelly and Dennis Gates both provide veteran leadership in the backcourt. Forehan-Kelly, a career 41.7 percent three-point shooter, tied his career high with 20 points against UCLA in the Pac-10 Tournament last week, while Gates came through with a personal-best 17 points in his final home game vs. USC Feb. 23.
Sophomore walk-on A.J. Diggs backs up Legans at the point. Cal's leader in steals with 44, he has six starts this season, including the USC game when he had 12 points and four assists subbing for the injured Legans.