John Sykes has been trying to keep his team’s eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel.
The third-year UC Merced men’s basketball coach loaded up the Bobcats’ nonconference schedule again, and the team struggled.
UC Merced opened the year 1-14, surrendering a troubling 90 points per game during the span. But even as his squad took its lumps, Sykes remained confident it would grow from the challenge.
“It’s the only way we were going to get better,” Sykes said. “We could have scheduled easier and done really well, but then gone 0-12 in conference. The goal was to get us ready for the (California Pacific Conference), and I believe we’ve done that.”
The Bobcats (2-14) participated in the Cal Pac Tournament for the first time last year. Now, they hope to do a little more once they’re there. The fight for a tournament spot should be more intense with the league expanding to seven teams and only the top four qualifying.
Senior guard George Idehen leads the team with 11.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Fellow senior Martin Harris has already made a big impact (10 ppg) in his five games back after completing an internship in Washington D.C. Without a lot of star power, the team is going to need balanced offensive contributions – and to whittle the 88.6 ppg it’s allowing – if it wants to compete for a Cal Pac crown.
Menlo (4-11, 2-0)
Season Averages: 69.2 points per game, 76.8 points per game allowed; Leader: Keith Bowman 18.7 ppg, 7.7 rebounds per game; Outlook: Menlo is considered one of the favorites with almost its entire team returning and the league’s most size.
William Jessup (6-9, 0-1)
Season Averages: 70.5 ppg, 74 ppga; Leader: Cory Clement 18 ppg, 8.3 rpg; Outlook: WJU has good size and depth and should push for a top-four finish.
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La Sierra (3-16, 1-4)
Season Averages: 71.1 ppg, 82 ppga; Leader: Daveon Woods 17.9 ppg; Outlook: Off to a rough start in league already, the Cal Pac’s newest team, based in Riverside, does have one of the best scoring tandems.
Cal Maritime (13-4, 1-0)
Season Averages: 77 ppg, 71.8 ppga; Leader: Grant Blasser 14 ppg; Outlook: The defending champs remain the team to beat. Not a lot of star power, but uses balance and depth well.
Simpson (3-15, 1-0)
Season Averages: 68.5 ppg, 85.9 ppga; Leader: Dalton Thacker 12.1 ppg; Outlook: This junior-heavy squad struggles defensively and lacks scoring beyond its starting five.
Pacific Union (1-1, 1-18)
Season Averages: 58.8 ppg, 82.9 ppga; Leader: Jordan Greenwell 13.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg; Outlook: Considered one of the league’s bottom dwellers. PUC lacks many offensive weapons.
UC Merced women
Contrary to its 1-11 start, Kevin Pham’s UCM women’s basketball team is vastly improved in its second year of existence.
The Bobcats’ losses are much more competitive than a year ago, and Shelby Howard (15 ppg) is no longer the only scoring threat. Leticia Oceguera (8.3 ppg) and Alexis Wu (7.9 ppg) have become regular contributors, and Pham is getting improved bench minutes.
Has Pham’s squad come far enough to compete in an improved Cal Pac? It just missed the Cal Pac tournament a year ago, and has its sights set on a top-four finish.
Menlo (13-4, 2-0 Cal Pac)
Season Averages: 73 ppg, 65.2 ppg; Leader: Jolise Limcaco 15.8 ppg; Outlook: The defending champs are young but talented and led by a three-pronged offensive attack.
William Jessup (6-10, 1-0)
Season Averages: 66.6 ppg, 67.9 ppga; Leader: Ashley Rose 18.7 ppg, 3 apg; Outlook: The veteran group has the league’s top scorer and should push Menlo in title race.
La Sierra (9-10, 3-2)
Season Averages: 62 ppg, 67.8 ppga; Leader: Natalia Hawthorne 18.4 ppg; Outlook: The league’s newcomers have been solid early and should push for a conference-tournament spot.
Cal Maritime (7-8, 0-1)
Season Averages: 64 ppg, 70 ppga; Leader: Javier Brantley 14.7 ppg; Outlook: A veteran team that looks to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish.
Simpson (6-12, 0-1)
Season Averages: 59 ppg, 71 ppga; Leader: Nichole Jones 13.2 ppg; Outlook: Lacks much of a scoring punch and has lost seven in a row. Unlikely to repeat last year’s second-place finish.
Pacific Union (5-11, 0-2)
Season Averages: 62 ppg, 68 ppga; Leader: Victoria Aguilera 12.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg; Outlook: Pioneers look to be an improved team and only have one senior. Starting unit pretty much does it all for squad that has won five of last nine.
This story was originally published January 8, 2014 4:36 PM.