This is the closest to home Shawn Lewis will be playing since high school, and the Cal Poly senior has a Bay Area buzz built up.
With the Mustangs men’s basketball team visiting Cal today — on a campus located less than 13 miles from Lewis’ Bishop O’Dowd High — he’s been fielding well-wishes and ticket requests all week.
“This is a big game,” Lewis said. “I have a lot of people coming, a lot of high school guys, high school coaches as well as family and everybody else. We’re going to have our own crowd. It’s not going to feel like just another environment.”
The nearest Cal Poly has come to his native Oakland have been annual Big West Conference road trips to Pacific and UC Davis, and Lewis wasn’t around for the Mustangs’ last Berkeley excursion, a 63-62 victory in the 2003-04 season opener.
Even though Cal Poly (3-6) is riding a three-game losing streak — five straight on the road — Lewis and the Mustangs have expectations of making it two in a row against the Golden Bears (5-4) after close calls with UCLA and No. 11 San Diego State.
“This is our last chance to meet our goal of getting a road game victory from our guarantee games against UCLA, San Diego State and Cal,” Lewis said. “We lost those other two.”
The Mustangs were outmuscled in a 72-61 loss to the Bruins (5-4) last Saturday then fell 51-45 in an intentionally unaesthetic game against the undefeated Aztecs (11-0) on Monday.
Considering San Diego State’s high ranking, Cal Poly came away happy with its defensive effort, which included an 0-for-18 performance from 3-point range by the Aztecs.
Though the Mustangs finished shooting only 29 percent from the field, the 34.8 percent was also a season low for San Diego State, which hadn’t shot under 45 percent all season.
“Our defense is real good right now,” Lewis said. “Going into UCLA, it was good and carrying over to San Diego State it was even better.”
With several players out with injury or illness, Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero’s strategy in this portion of the schedule has been to frustrate opponents and limit scoring opportunities in an attempt to win ugly.
“We’re just going to keep you off guard,” Callero said. “We’re not going to give you extra easy possessions, and we’re not going to jack up early shots.
“Nobody’s getting their points. Now, it’s a little tighter when you shoot the 3, the next shot’s a little harder. Then you’ve got to wait another minute before you get the ball again.”
The philosophy will continue against the Golden Bears.
Cal is led by junior Harper Kamp, who is coming off his best collegiate game, an 80-78 loss to Southern Mississippi and former Cuesta College standout Josimar Ayarza.
Kamp, a 6-foot-8 power forward, was 7 of 7 from the field and 6 for 6 from the free-throw line for 20 points. Ayarza finished with 17 points.
The Bears are coming off of back-to-back home losses, including a 77-57 defeat against San Diego State, but they still figure to be another tough matchup.
Cal might not have the size of UCLA or the dynamic guard play of San Diego State, but the Bears are also less one-dimensional. The Mustangs might not be able to rely on a single defensive strategy in the same way that they zoned the Bruins and played man-to-man against the Aztecs.
“They do have Pac-10 length,” Callero said. “They do have Pac-10 depth in size. I don’t think we match up great from a full-court standpoint or a zone standpoint.”
And the Cal Poly bench will be even shorter.
Already without projected starting guards Amaurys Fermin and Kyle Odister for the season and 6-10 freshman Ben Eisenhardt, who has not played all season with an infection, two more players — 6-5 Drake U’u (broken hand) and 6-10 Ryan Pembleton (strep throat) — were added to the list this week.
“We have to deal with those losses,” Lewis said, “but at the same time, you have to bounce back from that. We can’t be down. We just have to have some more guys step up like they have been, and I think we’ll be alright.”