USC Basketball Game Preview: California Golden Bears


USC Trojans (13-12, 5-7) at California Golden Bears (13-12, 6-7)

Head Coach: Mike Montgomery (Year 3: 59-34)

Conference: Pac-10

Stars: G Jorge Gutierrez, F Harper Kamp

Location: Berkeley, CA (Haas Pavilion)

Time: 7:30 PM (PDT)


Radio: 710 AM

Matchup: USC journeys to northern California after splitting a home series with the Oregon schools. The Trojans outlasted the Beavers on Thursday night, but failed to complete the sweep Saturday against the Ducks. On Saturday, USC struggled mightily from the floor in a poor offensive performance. With the loss to Oregon, the Trojans appear poised to play on the first day of the Pac-10 tournament and would need to win four games to earn the automatic bid.

Cal returns home from a road trip to Washington on a three-game losing streak. The Bears won the Pac-10 last year, but they lost many of their leaders to graduation and only Jorge Gutierrez provides veteran leadership. For Mike Montgomery’s squad, the future is bright and the Bears have had some good stretches but they are still young.

Maurice Jones, who leads the Pac-10 in minutes played, will not start on Thursday. Instead, senior Donte Smith will take his place in hopes of sparking the offense. Mo Jones had moved to the 2 position in recent weeks, with Jio Fontan running the point. USC needs to be aggressive in attacking the hoop. They use their defense to set up quick outlets for easy transition baskets. When in the half court, USC either needs to work the ball inside to one of their stellar big men, or the guards need to slash to the basket to create opportunities. Against the zone, USC needs to avoid slowly swinging the ball around the perimeter and put some mustard on the passes. Zones are tough to break, but if you can collapse it and get open guys to shoot, the chances of winning increase exponentially.

California’s offense isn’t stellar. They average 71.7 points per game while shooting 45.1%. 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 14.9 points per game while pulling down five rebounds. Additionally, Markhuri Sanders-Frison averages 10.6 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.