There are very few surprises at this point in the season, and the Golden Bears know pretty much what to expect Thursday night from USC.
“We’ve played everybody. We know what they’re going to do,” point guard Jerome Randle said. “SC is definitely going to try to take me out of the game. Other guys are going to have to step up and make plays. I’m not the only one out there.”
USC coach Tim Floyd has used a lot of triangle-and-two defense this season, but against the Bears last month in Los Angeles the Trojans pressured the perimeter, gave Cal’s big men some space inside and pretty much gambled it wouldn’t cost them.
Ultimately, it didn’t. USC won 73-62 by effectively neutralizing Cal’s long-range shooters. The Bears were 2-for-16 from 3-point range.
“What he tends to do is take the people he wants to try to minimize and he just face-guards them,” Montgomery said of Floyd’s tactics. “He’s kind of determined he doesn’t want certain people to beat (them).
“What he does have is athletic wings that are fairly physical and willing to work hard to try to keep people from getting the ball wherever they want it. It’s been a little bit of a problem for everybody.”
Guards Dwight Lewis and Daniel Hackett are both 6-foot-5, and freshman wing DeMar DeRozan is 6-7. Those three will devote their defensive energies to staying in front of Randle, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson.
Montgomery said patience and execution will determine Cal’s success against the USC defense. “You have to set better screens, your perimeter people are going to have to set up their cuts better to get open, and they’re going to have to put the ball on the floor a little bit and create something,” he said.
On offense, the Trojans present a balanced attack with four players averaging at least 11.6 points. They can go inside to Taj Gibson, who is aggressive around the basket and long enough to pass out of double-teams, and they have athletic players who are skilled at driving the ball to the basket.
The Trojans are a mediocre 3-point shooting team at just 32.4 percent — last in the Pac-10 — although they are converting 34.0 percent in conference play. In particular, DeRozan has shown no ability to scare anyone from the perimeter at 2-for-24 for the year from beyond the arc.
M*A*S*H UPDATE: While Cal is calling center Jordan Wilkes (concussion) a game-time decision, forward Harper Kamp (calf strain) is expected to play.
Floyd told the L.A. Times he does not expect senior guard Marcus Johnson to be available. Johnson has missed the last five games because of a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder that he suffered while dunking against Cal’s Jorge Gutierrez. He practiced Tuesday for the first time in two weeks, but didn’t appear ready to play, Floyd said.
“He did not do one thing with his right hand all day,” Floyd said. “Based on what I saw today, it won’t happen. Every shot was left-handed, every dribble was left-handed. I just don’t see it.”
Johnson’s absence has left the Trojans with no depth in the backcourt. Over the past four games, starting guards Hackett and Lewis each have averaged 38.5 minutes.
LAST TIME: Cal lost 73-62 at the Galen Center on Jan. 31 as the Trojans focused their defensive efforts on the Bears’ perimeter. The trio of Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson combined to score just 20 points on combined 7-for-23 shooting. USC gave more room to center Jordan Wilkes, who responded with 16 points, and forward Jamal Boykin, who had 18. Cal had a five-point lead with 12 minutes left, but struggled to score down the stretch and could not stop freshman DeMar DeRozan, who scored 19 points.
TIPOFF: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Haas Pavilion, Berkeley.
TV: CSNCA. RADIO: 1550 AM.
NOTES: Cal will try to post a 10th conference victory for the first time in three years and just the second time since 2003 . . . The Bears have recorded at least 10 Pac-10 victories 10 times since 1990, and have advanced to the NCAA Tournament nine of those seasons . . . Jerome Randle is just eight 3-point baskets shy of Ryan Drew’s single-season Cal record of 68, set in 1990 . . . Randle (86.0 percent) and Theo Robertson (44.9 percent) remain No. 1 on Cal’s all-time charts for free-throw accuracy and 3-point accuracy, respectively . . . While Cal is 15-1 at home, USC is just 2-6 on the road, winning at Oregon and Washington State.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
Cal (20-7, 9-5):
PF Jamal Boykin, 6-8, Jr., 10.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg
SF Theo Robertson, 6-5, Jr., 12.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg
C Jordan Wilkes, 7-0, Jr., 5.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg
SG Patrick Christopher, 6-5, Jr., 14.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg
PG Jerome Randle, 5-10, Jr., 17.8 ppg, 4.9 apg
USC (16-10, 7-7):
PF Leonard Washington, 6-7, Fr., 6.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg
SF DeMar DeRozan, 6-7, Fr., 12.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg
C Taj Gibson, 6-9, So., 13.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg
SG Dwight Lewis, 6-5, Jr., 15.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg
PG Daniel Hackett, 6-5, Jr., 11.8 ppg, 4.7 apg