Basketball: USC scouting report

Mike Montgomery hasn’t lost any love for his basketball team in the wake of three straight defeats.

Asked if his team could emerge from what a reporter called a “tailspin,” Montgomery defended his guys.

“The tailspin is the result of playing the two best teams in the conference, so I don’t know if it’s a tailspin,” he said. “Again, I’ve said this forever: It’s who you play, where you play ’em.”

The Bears return home after an 0-2 run through Washington and face USC on Thursday night at Haas Pavilion.

Cal’s most recent home game was its 107-105 triple-overtime loss to Arizona.

“If you want to go back to the Arizona game, we had ’em. We did everything we had to do, just didn’t get (the win),” he said. “I think the 55 minutes there (in triple overtime) took it’s toll. I don’t think there’s any question. Then we go to Washington and it was like sticking a stick in a hornet’s nest.”

Making matters worse, freshman Allen Crabbe suffered a minor concussion during the first half of the 109-77 loss at Washington and could not play two days later at Washington State. The Cougars beat Cal 75-71.

“Given the circumstances with Crabbe out, I think we acquitted ourselves pretty well,” Montgomery said.

Crabbe did not practice Wednesday, but may face the Trojans.

Montgomery is confident his team will continue to compete.

“I’m pleased with their effort and their resiliency,” he said. “They’ve hung in there pretty well. I don’t see any quit in them. That’s all you can really ask. We’ve just got to make sure we can maintain that for the last five regular-season games and get out of this thing what we can.

“I’m in with these guys. They’re giving me what they have. They’re trying,” he said. “Would you like to be better? Sure, but that’s always the case.

SUPER POWERS: Freshman guard Jeff Powers, while acknowledging mixed feelings about the circumstances, was thrilled to get his first career start last Saturday at WSU.

“It was amazing. I haven’t had an experience like that ever,” said the De La Salle HS grad, who scored 14 points. “I’m very grateful. I don’t want to sound grateful that Allen went down. No one wants to see that. I think I took the opportunity and went with it.

“It was a great experience and I hope I get to have the opportunity again.”

Powers, who came off the bench to score 13 points in the UW game, shot a combined 8 for 14 in the two games, including 5 for 9 from the 3-point arc.

Montgomery said he had no real expectations for how Powers, a transfer from the University of Denver, might fare. “It would have been unreasonable to expect he would play that well,” Montgomery said.

Powers said he was so nervous on the Friday night before the WSU game that he called De La Salle coach Frank Allocco, who calmed him and assured him he was prepared to play capably.

Making his first shot no doubt boosted his confidence, Montgomery suggested. “He actually did some other things,” the coach added. “He was smart in terms of what we were trying to do (defensively) in getting to (Klay) Thompson and he did a great job of getting back to block off (for rebounding).

“It was good for his confidence and probably good for our confidence to have him to do that.”

USC SCOUT: The Trojans feature the 6-10 tandem of Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson, who have combined for 21 double-doubles. Cal figures to continue playing its zone defense to bottle up the big men after limiting Vucevic to six points in the Bears’ 68-66 win at Los Angeles. It’s the only time in Pac-10 play he has failed to reach double digits . . . Senior sixth-man Donte Smith took advantage of of gaps in the Cal zone to shoot 8 for 12 from 3-point range in a career-high 24-point performance. But Smith has shot just 8 for 36 from long range in five games since. Said Montgomery: “I only know what I saw.”  . . .   The Trojans’ seven conference defeats have come by an average margin of just 8.1 points . . . USC is perhaps the only team in the Pac-10 with less depth than the Bears. Beyond their top seven, players currently on the Trojans’ roster have totaled zero points and zero rebounds in 12 minutes of action over 12 Pac-10 games . . . Lack of numbers may contribute to the fact that the Trojans have lost seven times on Saturday, but are 8-1 in Thursday games.

THE SERIES: Cal leads 128-119, including a 68-66 victory at the Galen Center last month.  The Bears have won three straight over the Trojans in Berkeley.

ETCETERA: Cal junior guard Jorge Gutierrez is averaging 19.8 ppg over the past six outings . . . Sophomore point guard Brandon Smith leads the Pac-10 in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.5 in conference games and has 25 assists and just four turnovers the past four games . . . USC is 1-4 in conference road games . . . The Trojans are averaging just 52.3 ppg over the past three games while Cal is allowing 97.0 over the same span.

TIPOFF: 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Haas Pavilion. TV: None. Radio: 910-AM.

Cal (13-12, 6-7)

Starters Ht Yr Pts Rebs
PF Harper Kamp 6-8 Jr. 14.9 5.7
C Markhuri Sanders-Frison 6-7 Sr. 10.6 7.2
SF Allen Crabbe 6-6 Fr. 12.0 5.5
SG Jorge Gutierrez 6-3 Jr. 13.8 4.4*
PG Brandon Smith 5-11 So. 5.5 3.9*
Key reserves
F Richard Solomon 6-9 Fr. 5.4 4.1
F Bak Bak 6-9 So. 2.6 2.6
G Jeff Powers 6-7 Fr. 5.5 1.3


USC (13-12, 5-7)

Starters Ht Yr Pts Rebs
PF Nikola Vucevic 6-10 Jr. 16.9 10.1
PF Alex Stepheson 6-10 Sr. 9.5 8.8
SG Marcus Simmons 6-6 Sr. 4.6 2.9
SG Jio Fontan 6-0 Jr. 10.0 3.6*
PG Maurice Jones 5-7 Fr. 9.7 3.8*
Key reserves
G Donte Smith 5-11 Sr. 10.3 1.7
F Garrett Jackson 6-7 Fr. 4.1 2.0


Jeff Faraudo