USC Basketball Game Preview: California Golden Bears


California Golden Bears (9-9, 2-4) at USC Trojans (11-8, 3-3)

Head Coach: Mike Montgomery (Year 3: 55-31)

Conference: Pac-10

Stars: G Jorge Gutierrez, F Harper Kamp

Location: Galen Center

Time: 8:00 PM (PDT)

TV: Fox Sports West

Radio: 710 AM

Matchup: USC finishes out its two-game mini home stand Saturday night against the California Golden Bears. The Trojans held Stanford to a historic low in shooting percentage as part of an incredible defensive effort on Thursday night. Unlike the Oregon road trip, USC came out with intensity and shot the ball very well. Their guards were aggressive, and Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson scored at will in the paint. After a tumultuous week, USC played like they did against Kansas and Tennessee.

California arrives at the Galen Center after a heartbreaking loss to UCLA. The Bears hit a three with 10 seconds left to tie it and forced a missed shot with two seconds left, but allowed UCLA to sneak in for a put-back at the buzzer. Overall, Cal has lost two in a row and four of their last six. The Bears weren’t expected to be a very good team after losing four starters from the team that won the Pac-10 a year ago. However, they showed promise when they beat then-No. 20 Temple in the third game of the season. Since then, the Bears don’t have any notable victories and have a few bad losses.

Much like they did against Stanford, USC needs to be aggressive in attacking the hoop. They used their defense to set up quick outlets for easy transition baskets. When in the half court, USC either worked the ball inside to one of their stellar big men, or the guards slashed to the basket to create opportunities. One difference in this game is that Cal will probably run a zone. Stanford played man-to-man the first half, and they paid for it. Against the zone, the guard must continue to attack and create opportunities. Zones are tough to break, but if you can collapse it and get open guys to shoot, the chances of winning increase exponentially. In addition to the dominance by Vucevic and Stepheson inside (they were 13 for 18 from the floor), USC also needs the guards to continue shooting well. Starters Jio Fontan, Mo Jones, and Marcus Simmons combined to shoot 8 for 16.

California’s offense isn’t stellar. They average 68 points per game while shooting 44.6%. Despite not scoring a lot as a team, four players average double figures. Two big men will try to counter USC’s combination of Vucevic and Stepheson. Harper Kamp, a 6’8″ junior, averages 14.2 points per game while pulling down five rebounds. Additionally, Markhuri Sanders-Frison averages 10.1 points per game and pulls down just over 7 rebounds per game. USC must be forceful inside to avoid being outrebounded and allowing Cal second chance opportunities. Jorge Gutierrez may not be their most prolific scorer, but he is their best player. He is their unquestioned emotional leader and is a top-notch defender. The Trojans must monitor him throughout the game. Coming off of an emotional loss, it is uncertain whether the Bears will be fired up or drained, but USC must come out strong from the tip-off.

If USC can emerge from this weekend at 4-3 in conference play, it would put prime importance on the road trip to Arizona next weekend. If the Trojans fall to Cal, there will be little hope as to their prospects of competing in league play.