On the one hand, Cal State Bakersfield head coach Rod Barnes isn’t too concerned about his team's wins and losses until conference play starts in January. He won’t even be reading too much into the scores of the games, he said. He’ll evaluate the quality of play with his own eyes, instead.
But don’t get that confused. It doesn’t mean he’ll be satisfied with anything less than a win when the Roadrunners (1-1) head to No. 3 Arizona (2-0) to take on “Goliath” at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
“We don’t ever go for moral victories,” Barnes said. “That’s just something that we don’t do. We’re going to Arizona and we’re gonna put our best foot forward to win the game. But if we don’t win, just like if we do win, we’re still going to look at the box score and say, ‘Hey, we got to do this better.’”
Last season, CSUB had a “good showing” against Arizona, Barnes said. The Roadrunners fell behind by 21 early in the second half but lost by only 12, 78-66, behind 31 points from senior Jaylin Airington.
But Airington is gone and this isn’t last year’s team.
Last season’s squad returned a large group of starters that had been to the NCAA Tournament the year before. Barnes just had to talk to them about big games against high-caliber teams because the players had been through it,
This year’s team is a young group that was led in points by freshman Jarkel Joiner in its first game and returned just one — partially injured —starter from last season in point guard Brent Wrapp.
Playing Arizona is a necessary early-season chance to throw them into the fire.
“It’ll show or teach or prepare our young guys for something that they can’t prepare for without going in there and playing,” Barnes said.
The Wildcats have scored more than 100 points in each of their first two games and are shooting 60.1 percent from the field, which is sixth-best in the country. Junior guard Allonzo Trier is averaging 31 points by himself.
Barnes expects a handful of players on Arizona’s roster to be first-round NBA draft picks.
The CSUB coach won’t relax the standards he holds his players to. He still wants the defense to hold the Wildcats around 38 to 42 percent shooting. He expects improvement on the 18 turnovers from a blowout 77-53 loss to Georgia Southern and the 18 first half free throws allowed.
“Coach Barnes demands perfection,” Wrapp said after CSUB's season opener. “He wants us to be at our best and he’s gonna be at his best every single time we hit the floor, whether we’re down 20 or up 20. That’s just who he is as a competitor and who we need to be as a team.”
Barnes knows his players will be excited for the opportunity against one of the nation's best teams and is trying to keep them calm about it. He said even recruits have mentioned they want to keep playing more high-profile teams.
The goal at the beginning of every season is to win a Western Athletic Conference championship and make it to the NCAA Tournament.
Barnes’ hope is that this game, the one against No. 23 UCLA, and the one at Arkansas prepare the Roadrunners well enough for what is coming during conference play.
“You want to win, but winning now doesn’t get us anything but a win,” Barnes said. “Winning later gets us a trophy, gets us an at-large bid, an NIT bid.”