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COLLEGE BASKETBALL

California guard Patrick Christopher tries to make ALL the numbers count

The senior from Compton averages 16.2 points, seventh in the Pac-10. But on a Cal team with several other scoring options, including fellow guard Jerome Randle, Christopher focuses on playing a well-rounded game.

February 06, 2010|By David Wharton

The numbers matter to Patrick Christopher.

As the "other" half of the most talented backcourt in the Pacific 10 Conference, the California guard still keeps track of his statistics.

But on a team that takes its lead from high-flying point guard Jerome Randle -- and gets additional offense from the frontcourt -- Christopher has learned to look beyond the points column.

"We have a bunch of guys who can score," said Christopher, a senior. "Any given night, anybody can get going, so I try to work on the little things."

Things like rebounds, steals and assists, part of a well-rounded game to complement the offensive prowess the Compton Dominguez High alumnus will bring to a conference showdown at UCLA on Saturday afternoon.

"He's strong and he's a good defender," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. "He's just a good player in general."

In an otherwise muddled Pac-10 season -- the Bruins and Golden Bears are among four teams tied for first place -- most of Cal's headlines have focused on Randle, a flashy player who ranks as the conference's fourth-leading scorer at 19.3 points a game.

The 6-5, 220-pound Christopher isn't too far behind -- seventh at 16.2 -- and has improved markedly in other areas.

His steals have doubled from last season to an average of 1.73. His rebounds are up to 5.7 and he ranks fourth in the Pac-10 in free-throw percentage at 84.1%.

This versatility has compensated for recent offensive struggles -- nine-for-32 shooting in his last two games.

"One thing I've definitely been trying to work on is playing both ends of the floor," he said. "When you aren't shooting the ball as well, one thing you can do is play defense."

It's a lesson he learned from his godbrother, Detroit Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince. Their familial relationship is built of occasional get-togethers -- when busy schedules allow -- and more frequent text messages.

"It's always good to have somebody to look up to," Christopher said. "Just watching him to see how he lets defensive play dictate his game."

Not that Christopher has forsaken offense.

His scoring played a big role in early-season victories over Jacksonville and UC Santa Barbara, and he surpassed 20 points in three straight conference games last month.

Christopher has added to his jump shot by driving to the basket more often, using his size and quickness against smaller opposing guards.

"He's one of those zone shooters," USC Coach Kevin O'Neill said. "When he gets things going early, he's really, really tough to play."

But, again, Cal Coach Mike Montgomery likes the other elements of Christopher's game.

"The thing I've been pleased with is that Patrick has gone to the boards pretty aggressively," Montgomery said earlier this season. "We need rebounding from our guards and that's something he's done a good job with."

Christopher smiles when he thinks back to high school, back to when he could physically dominate games.

Transferring as a senior from Lakewood Mayfair High to Dominguez -- where Prince once played -- he ranked among the top 20 shooting guards in the nation.

But the college level is different, especially on a team that has talented forwards Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin.

The last time the Golden Bears faced UCLA -- the Bruins won on a last-second shot -- Christopher had 14 points, nine rebounds and four steals but still played a supporting role to Randle and the game's leading scorer, Robertson.

He doesn't mind.

"When you have a few guys who can put up 20 to 30 points, it makes things interesting," he said. "You look at getting assists and making steals."

This season, those numbers matter too.

david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

Times staff writer Baxter Holmes contributed to this report.

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