Head coaches and players often shrug off the idea of pressure heading into a game, but Cal State Bakersfield head coach Rod Barnes is willing to admit that it’s there. He and the Roadrunners currently hold a 1-5 record in the Western Athletic Conference.
The two games at home this week are against the two teams that CSUB is sandwiched between in the standings. Chicago State, which CSUB plays Thursday at 7 p.m., hasn’t beaten a Division I team all year and Missouri-Kansas City, which CSUB plays Saturday at 7 p.m., beat the Roadrunners on Jan. 18.
“I don’t think we feel pressure that the season is over, but I do feel an urgency — and I think even within our team — that this week is a huge week for us because we felt like we’ve been on the road for three games,” Barnes said. “We’ve made some strides. Now, hopefully, we can get home and put it all together before we get back on the road again. Yeah, I would say there’s a certain amount of pressure. A real urgency.”
At the beginning of the season, Barnes’ biggest issues were with defense and rebounding. Now, the offense is on the mind of the head coach.
The Roadrunners have the worst scoring offense in the WAC for the season at 65.5 points per game, and worst in conference play at 62.0 points per game. Only 23 out of 351 teams in the country average fewer points than CSUB.
The scoring droughts spill over into other areas of the game and become CSUB’s downfall.
“Our lulls, as far as offensively, affect some other things,” Barnes said. “I think if we shoot the ball well, I think we rebound it well and we take care of it better.”
For Barnes, solving that issue is a matter of his players getting experience manufacturing points — via an offensive rebound, getting to the foul line, or some other means — when the shots aren’t falling.
For redshirt senior point guard Brent Wrapp, it comes down to focus.
“You got to be consistent with your approach mentally and knowing where you got to be and having a clear mind,” Wrapp said. “You can't be thinking about other things out there. You got to be focused on what your role is and what your job is. If we get that, then we’ll be in good shape.”
Barnes pulled first-year junior college transfer guard Rickey Holden out of the starting lineup the last two games and put in 3-point shooter Damiyne Durham. The head coach hoped it would provide an offensive spark at the beginning of the game instead of off the bench.
It also gave Barnes a chance to cut back Holden’s minutes to prevent him from wearing down.
And though he feels the pressure to win now, Barnes isn’t done experimenting for the near future. Redshirt freshman forward Greg Lee played 14 and 15 minutes the last two games after playing two and four in the two games prior to that.
Freshman Justin McCall is going to play “a lot” more than his nine minutes per game this week, Barnes said. Barnes is going to put McCall on a strong scorer from the other team and will see how well the freshman can defend. Barnes is hoping to use McCall as a better, more athletic defender in the future.
“If he can do that, then I can say, ‘Hey, when we get to the tournament, if we throw him in the game, we know that we are putting him in a position that he could be successful,’” Barnes said.
A few weeks ago, Barnes thought the team hit a stall. They weren’t getting better, he said. They weren’t fixing their problems. Though he thinks CSUB is better now than it was two weeks ago, he knows it’s still a number of steps away from being a good basketball team.
Two wins could signal progress and help the Roadrunners begin to dig their way out of the bottom of the WAC standings.
“I think we got the wagon moving in the right direction again,” Barnes said.