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North Carolina A&T center Thomas Coleman, center, is surrounded by Stanford defenders during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stanford, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010.(AP Photo)

Ninety-nine years after meeting for the first time on the basketball court, Cal and Stanford square off in their Pac-10 opener today at Maples Pavilion, equipped with similar goals and resumes.

Tipoff is at 5 p.m. Cal has won three straight in the series and claimed the first meeting, 32-16, way back during the 1911-12 season.

Both the Golden Bears (7-5) and Cardinal (7-4) hope to compete better in the Pac-10 than the second-division residency for which they were projected.

To achieve that, they'll need more from their offenses and more of the same from their defenses. The key variable for both is their freshmen. Three are in the regular rotation for each team.

"There's no shortcuts to the type of success we want them to have. It's going to be a process," Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins said. "In both programs you see that. You're going to have some shining moments and some where you think, 'What the heck are we doing?' "

Cal had one of the latter moments with a five-point first half in a loss to Notre Dame. Stanford was left shaking its head after a 33-point loss at Butler.

Even so, freshmen have made substantial contributions to both teams. The Bears are getting an average of 21.3 points and 11.8 rebounds from their first-year players, Stanford 22.5 points and 11.4 rebounds.

Neither team has lit up the scoreboard, ranking among the league's worst in scoring and shooting percentage. But defense has helped keep both competitive, and that's not always a given with young teams.


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"What they are is competitive," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said of his freshmen. "I think when the ball hasn't gone down, maybe they're trying to figure out a way to win, stay in games, and they've upped their energy level a little at the defensive end."

Junior Harper Kamp said the freshmen came on board defensively from the start.

"They didn't need much convincing, to be honest," said Kamp, one of three upperclassmen in Cal's starting lineup. "They listened to (Montgomery) and they listened to us, knowing that defense is going to be a key. That's the way it should be."

Dawkins has been encouraged by his club's defense, which is allowing 60.4 points per game, best in the Pac-10.

"I'm sure in our case and in Cal's case, there was a heavy emphasis in the preseason just on preparation (defensively), knowing we have a lot of youth and it's going to be important for us," he said.

Likewise, Montgomery is impressed by what the Cardinal has done.

"I don't think they're that far away," he said, adding that Dawkins' decision to put freshman guard Aaron Bright in the starting lineup Tuesday against Yale took ballhandling responsibilities off the shoulders of junior Jarrett Mann.

Montgomery made a similar move the same night, inserting Brandon Smith into the starting five against Hartford to provide Jorge Gutierrez some ballhandling aid and take some heat off freshman Gary Franklin, who has struggled with his shot. Smith responded with 15 points.

Notes: Stanford junior guard and leading scorer Jeremy Green, who sprained his ankle against Yale, is expected to start. Same with Cal senior center Markhuri Sanders-Frison, who was kicked in the calf during practice Thursday. "... Cal was No. 49 nationally, Stanford No. 136, according to Friday's RealTimeRPI.com computer rankings. The big difference is the Bears have played the second-toughest schedule in the country, according to the site, while Stanford's strength-of-schedule rating was just No. 195.

today's game
Cal at Stanford,
5 p.m. CSNBA