Former Burbank and Laguna Creek high school basketball star Malik Pope, now a junior forward at San Diego State, has been dealing with a gimpy knee this season.
He missed the first three games this season but wasn’t going to sit out Monday’s game against Cal at Golden 1 Center – his first appearance in his hometown since he left for San Diego in 2014.
The 6-foot-10 Pope played a key role in the Aztecs’ 77-65 win in the second game of a doubleheader. UC Davis topped Sacramento State 81-72 in the first college basketball game at the new downtown arena.
Pope had 14 points and five rebounds in 19 minutes before fouling out. But his biggest contribution was helping to slow Ivan Rabb, Cal’s 6-11 All-America sophomore.
“I wanted to play here bad, really bad,” Pope after the game. “I haven’t played in front of my family in a while.”
In the first half, Pope hounded Rabb, who missed both of his shots and was held to three free throws. Rabb, coming off a toe injury, finished with a game-high 19 points, but most came when Pope was on the bench in foul trouble.
“I tried to stand my ground,” said Pope, who fouled out with 2:43 to play. “(Rabb) likes to play physical, so I tried to do what I can to use my speed and make his shots tough. When you make shots tough, they start to rush.”
Senior guard Dakarai Allen (Sheldon) also contributed to the defensive effort in his 29 minutes as the Aztecs held Cal to 32.1 percent (17 of 53) shooting. The Aztecs’ captain and former Sacramento Bee Player of the Year had six points and six rebounds.
San Diego State made its first appearance in Sacramento since 1994, when the Aztecs beat Sacramento State 67-61. But the capital has been a hotbed of recruitment for coach Steve Fisher and his staff in recent years.
Pope, Allen and senior guard D’Erryl Williams (Sheldon) are on the roster. Chase Tapley (Sacramento High) and Xavier Thames (Pleasant Grove) had standout careers for the Aztecs, and former Jesuit 3-point shooting ace Parker U’u was a reserve entering the year before leaving for San Francisco State as a graduate transfer.
The doubleheader drew an announced crowd of 10,104, a record for an area neutral court or home game involving Sac State or UCD.
Lemar likes Sacramento – UC Davis senior guard Brynton Lemar plays well in Sacramento.
Lemar scored a career-high 23 points and added six rebounds and five assists in leading the Aggies past the Hornets. He made 7 of 13 shots, including three 3-pointers, and 6 of 7 free throws. Lemar also scored 14 consecutive Aggies points during a 4 1/2 -minute span in the second half.
Lemar had his previous career high of 21 points in an 84-79 loss to the Hornets last November at the Nest.
In 2013, Lemar also won a CIF state championship in Sacramento with St. Augustine of San Diego. He scored 10 points as St. Augustine defeated Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco 59-52 in the Division III final at Sleep Train Arena.
The Aggies (4-1) hope Lemar can stay hot in chilly Anchorage, Alaska, where they look to extend their winning streak to five games against defending Big Sky Conference champion Weber State in Thursday’s opening round of the Great Alaska Shootout. The Aggies will play Drake or Iona on Friday and a team to be determined Saturday.
Hornets off target – Sac State hopes to shoot better against USF on Saturday and Denver on Sunday at the Eastern Washington tournament in Cheney, Wash.
The Hornets (1-3) are shooting 39.4 percent from the field and 26.1 percent from 3-point range. Sac State, which opened the season with road losses to Colorado and Nebraska, shot just 37.3 percent (25 of 67) against UC Davis.
“You almost have to throw out the first two,” coach Brian Katz said. “But yeah, we’re not shooting the ball great. We’ve got some work to do, for sure.”