Sitting inside the Icardo Center for his first press conference of the season, Cal State Bakersfield center Moataz Aly wasn’t joking when he said he tried to score every time his teammates passed him the ball.
He had just taken a then-career-high seven shots in the seasoning-opening win over Whittier College on Nov. 10, shooting or getting fouled nearly each time he touched the ball down low — if not every single time. It resulted in a new career-high of 15 points.
That was just the first embodiment of a transition for Aly from a defensive-focused player to a threat on both sides of the court in his senior season. He reset his career-high with 16 points in the first game of the Great Alaska Shootout last week and strung together back-to-back double-digit performances for the first time in his career.
Aly leads the team with a 74.4 shooting percentage on 43 shots and has dramatically increased his offensive presence. He’s scored in double figures two of the last three games and is hoping to continue the expansion of his offensive game when the Roadrunners (4-3) head to UCLA (5-1) on Wednesday for a matchup at the Pauley Pavilion at 7 p.m.
“Mo is showing that on the offensive end,” forward Shon Briggs said. “We all know what he can do on the defensive end. It’s just all about consistency and putting it all together. He’s definitely someone we can depend on in the post for sure.”
Last season, offense was an afterthought for Aly. He didn’t come off the bench or make his 13 starts to score points. His primary role was to be a solid defender and shot blocker inside.
He averaged 2.5 points and 1.8 blocks per game. In the 27 games that Aly recorded at least one block or one point, his block total equaled or surpassed his point total 13 times.
But then CSUB lost three of its top four scorers and the need for points from Aly increased dramatically. He came off the bench the first game of the 2017-18 season but has started over Fallou Ndoye in the six games since then.
His four career double-digit performances have all come this season. His 82.6 percent of 2-point shots made against Division I opponents this season is ninth-best in the country, according to Kenpom.
In the three games of the Great Alaska Shootout, Aly scored 37 points.
“I thought it became a trust factor,” CSUB head coach Rod Barnes said. “Sometimes when you have big guys that are not used to scoring, until you feel confident that they can score, they don’t catch the ball a whole lot because you don't throw it to them a whole lot. I do think his play was more consistent, but I think we looked for him more, which gave him more opportunities.”
At 6-foot-10, Aly is able to use his length inside to score over smaller defenders. He prefers playing against 7 footers — like UCLA’s Thomas Welsh — because they’re usually slower, Aly said, and he can use his quickness on a backdown spin move to get around them.
Aly always prefers to dunk but he’ll take the layup, skyhook or floater when he has to.
“I never played on a team with a guy who dunks on so many people,” Briggs said. “... That’s what we need him to do.”
On Tuesday after watching film on UCLA, Aly was more intent on discussing his defensive shortcomings than his offensive improvements. He needs to be more active on the boards he said and better at anticipating when his help defense is needed down low.
His shooting percentage could be better, he said. More importantly, though, he needs more than 12 blocks in seven games.
But when he finds himself with the ball in the post, the only thing Barnes wants him thinking about is scoring.
“When you’re changing a guy from being just a total defensive player and having to play offense and do some things with it, you want him to be aggressive in what he’s doing,” Barnes said. “So early on, we’re like, ‘Man, when you catch it, score.’ And we’re not gonna change that right now.”