The final game in Round 1 of the Pac-10 Conference schedule looms tonight for Cal (16-5, 5-3), and the challenge is another new one.
USC (14-6, 5-3) shares third place with Cal and Arizona State, each one game back of co-leaders UCLA and Washington. The Trojans have won four of their past five games, compared to Cal, which has dropped three of four.
The Trojans are distinct from every other team in the conference because they employ what are typically regarded as gimmick defenses as a staple. They’ll use a triangle-and-two alignment, mixed in with a box-and-one.
“He’s kind of found something he likes and I think it helps him control tempo,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said of his USC counterpart, Tim Floyd. “They have gone to it as a fair portion of what they’re doing.”
The intention, of course, is to identify the other team’s best player or two and focus man-to-man attention on them while the rest of the defense aligns in a zone that provides help. Try to make the other guys beat you.
Montgomery said it’s not always easy to identify, explaining that what sometimes looks like a box-and-one actually is a soft man-to-man defense.
The Bears spent a portion of Friday’s practicing working on the Trojans’ defensive preferences — as they did early in the week.
“They’ll run a triple-and-two, box-and-one, try to take me and Patrick (Christopher) out of the game as much as possible,” point guard Jerome Randle said early this week. “All the other guys will just have to make plays.”
The Trojans’ length could also pose a problem for the Bears, especially in the backcourt. Randle, at 5-10, will be forced to cope with either Daniel Hackett or Dwight Lewis, both 6-5.
TIRED TROJANS: Will be interesting tonight to see how several of USC’s players respond after playing big minutes Thursday while recovering from various physical ailments.
Power forward Taj Gibson played 38 minutes — and scored 20 points — after missing practice Monday and Tuesday with pneumonia.
Guards Hackett (flu) and Lewis (ankle) each played 37 minutes against Stanford.
DeSCOOP ON DeROZAN: He started slowly, but freshman forward DeMar DeRozan is rolling. Before totaling just 13 points the past two games, DeRozan scored in double digits 13 consecutive games, including a career-high 22 points vs. Arizona State.
“He’s extremely talented and plays hard, that combination allows freshmen to get better,” Floyd said. “Really applied himself after practice to work on his mid-range game. he’s finishing at the rim, his rebounding numbers are up. He’s played very well.”
Montgomery said the publicity surrounding DeRozan’s arrival was typically excessive: “The hype was that he was the next O.J. Mayo,” Monty said. “He’s a very nice player, very athletic, different. Doesn’t shoot as much from the outside, more of a driver, slasher. A phenomenal athlete, jumps out of the gym.
“They’ve got a veteran lineup with Gibson, Hackett, Lewis — he doesn’t have to do as much. But he’s an awfully nice freshman.”
TIPOFF: 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Galen Center, Los Angeles.
TV: FSN/CSNCA. RADIO: 1550 AM.
NOTES: After being held to a season-low six points in the 81-66 loss at UCLA, Patrick Christopher needs seven points to become the ninth Cal player to reach 1,000 career points before his senior season . . . Jerome Randle is 29 points shy of 1,000 . . . For everything that went wrong at UCLA, the Bears shot 9-for-15 from 3-point range, improving their NCAA-leading accurary to 47.6 percent . . . Theo Robertson, who was 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, is at 56.9 percent for the season and has taken over the No. 1 spot on Cal’s career list at 45.2 percent . . . Counting Crows lead and Cal fan Adam Duritz attended Thursday’s game at Pauley Pavilion . . . This is Cal’s third visit to the Galen Center, and the Bears still are seeking their first win. They lost 93-89 in overtime last season and 84-66 in 2007.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
Cal (16-5, 5-3):
PF Jamal Boykin, 6-8, Jr., 10.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg
SF Theo Robertson, 6-5, Jr., 12.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg
C Jordan Wilkes, 7-0, Jr., 4.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg
SG Patrick Christopher, 6-5, Jr., 15.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg
PG Jerome Randle, 5-10, Jr., 18.6 ppg, 5.1 apg
USC (14-6, 5-3):
PF Taj Gibson, 6-9, Jr., 15.0 ppg, 10.1 rpg
PF Leonard Washington, 6-7, Fr., 7.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg
SF DeMar DeRozan, 6-7, Fr., 12.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg
SG Dwight Lewis, 6-5, Jr., 15.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg
PG Daniel Hackett, 6-5, Jr., 11.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg