TIPOFF: 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Galen Center, Los Angeles. TV: None. Radio: 910-AM.
This is NOT a game Cal can afford to lose.
“The game we’ve got to have is SC right now, without question, unequivocally, no questions asked,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery, when asked about concerns his team might look ahead to UCLA on Saturday.
The Trojans reside in last place in the Pac-12 standings and have won just once since Dec. 19. But they battled Cal in Berkeley before losing 53-49 and just last weekend trailed 29-23 minutes into the second half at Washington, then were buried.
“They’re still competing really hard. They’re in a lot of games. They just can’t sustain,” Montgomery said. “They’re up at Washington and they’re giving them fits.”
Montgomery has been impressed by the adjustments coach Kevin O’Neill has made while watching his players picked off, one by one, by injuries.
“He’s got ’em playing hard,” Montgomery said. “He’s doing a great job of utilizing what he has — kind of gone to a five-out deal now, which makes it difficult to defend. They’ve got all their big guys away from the basket, which opens up the court.”
Sophomore point guard Justin Cobbs, making a visit home to Los Angeles, said the Bears only need to recall their first game with USC to stay on task.
“We had a great lead and were playing well, and they ended up coming back. They hit a couple shots down the stretch and it was a four-point game and we were on our heels,” Cobbs said. “Just thinking back to that, we know anything can happen. Just make sure we focus. We’re right where we want to be.”
The Bears play five of their final seven Pac-12 games on the road — as do first-place Washington, and Colorado, which shares second with Cal.
“On the road, we need to go out and get it any way possible — one point, 20 points, anything,” Cobbs said. “As long as we end up getting the win.”
Cal is 2-2 in Pac-12 road games. USC is 1-4 at home in the conference and has drawn crowds under under 3,200 in three of those five games. The Bears won’t face a more accomodating set of circumstances on the road the rest of the season.
ABOUT THE TROJANS: USC has been decimated by injuries, with five players — three of them starters — out for the season. C Dewayne Dedmon (7.6ppg, 5.5 rpg) and PF Aaron Fuller (10.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) both have been lost since the Trojans visited Cal on Dec. 29 . . . USC ranks last in the Pac-12 in most offensive categories, including scoring (53.8 ppg), field-goal percentage (39.7), 3-point percentage (28.4) and free throw percentage (60.4), in addition to rebounding margin (minus-6.9). They are 335th out of 338 teams nationally in scoring . . .
The Trojans have won just twice since Nov. 30. They have been held under 60 points in 17 of 24 games, under 50 in nine games . . . But they lead the conference in scoring defense (58.7 ppg) and turnover margin (plus-4.3) . . . Sophomore PG Maurice Jones is the team’s only dependable scorer, but he is shooting 10 for 52 from the 3-point line (19.2 percent) over the past 10 games. Jones shot 6 for 22 in losses at Washington State and Washington last weekend, including 1 for 9 from the 3-point arc . . . Sophomore forward Garrett Jackson scored 15 points in each of the Trojans’ games last weekend.
THE SERIES: Cal leads 130-120 all-time, although the Trojans have won six of the past 10 meetings. The Bears posted a 53-49 victory over USC at Berkeley on Dec. 29, holding on after building a 31-19 halftime lead. Jorge Gutierrez led Cal with 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Maurice Jones scored 17 for the Trojans . . . Cal is trying to complete its first season sweep of USC since 2005-06 . . . USC is 67-28 in six seasons at the Galen Center.
MISCELLANY: Senior Harper Kamp needs just 19 points to reach 1,000 for his career and and seven rebounds to get to 500 . . . Cal ranks 13th nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.36), 17th in assists per game (16.3) and 18th in free throw percentage (75.6) . . . Sophomore Allen Crabbe has scored double digits in 40 of 55 career games, including 37 of the past 45.
Cal (18-6, 8-3 Pac-12)
|SF Allen Crabbe||6-6||So.||15.9||6.1|
|PF Harper Kamp||6-8||Sr.||10.0||5.0|
|PF David Kravish||6-9||Fr.||5.8||5.0|
|SG Jorge Gutierrez||6-3||Sr.||14.1||5.3|
|PG Justin Cobbs||6-2||So.||12.7||4.5*|
|G Brandon Smith||5-11||Jr.||3.7||2.7*|
|G Emerson Murray||6-2||So.||1.9||0.8|
|C Robert Thurman||6-10||Jr.||3.6||1.8|
USC (6-18, 1-10 Pac-12)
|SF Garrett Jackson||6-6||So.||6.0||2.6|
|C James Blasczyk||7-1||Jr.||2.6||2.8|
|SG Greg Allen||6-3||Jr.||4.1||1.1|
|SG Byron Wesley||6-5||Fr.||7.8||4.8|
|PG Maurice Jones||5-7||So.||14.0||3.4*|
|G Alexis Moore||6-2||Fr.||5.0||2.0|
|G Eric Strangis||6-4||Sr.||0.8||0.5|
|G Daniel Munoz||5-10||Jr.||0.8||0.8|