TIPOFF: 7 p.m. Sunday at Haas Pavilion, Berkeley. TV/Radio: KICU/910-AM.
UPDATE: Senior guard Brandon Smith cleared to play today.
The Golden Bears are executing and playing with confidence.
The trick Sunday against USC is maintaining the edge they have taken into recent wins over Oregon, Arizona and UCLA.
“We played two ranked teams — no reason not to be excited,” coach Mike Montgomery said of the games vs. Oregon and Arizona. “We’ve got to stay excited against everybody. That’s going to be the key for us.”
The Bears certainly don’t want to sleep on the Trojans, who have won four in a row and are 5-3 since replacing coach Kevin O’Neill with Bob Cantu.
“They’ve got the same record in conference as we have,” sophomore David Kravish, noting that the Bears and Trojans are tied for fifth place, one-half game back of Arizona State. “I don’t know if people aren’t noticing them. We’ve got to go into that game with the same intensity as Oregon and Arizona.”
Montgomery said this will be a tougher assignment than a month ago, when Cal beat USC in Los Angeles.
“No question,” he said. “When they started the year they thought they had a team that could contend for the conference championship.
“They feel like they have talent. Bob’s gone in said, `When you’re open, shoot it. They seem to have thrived on that. We’re going to have to be ready to play.”
The Bears have thrived, as much as anything, because they have learned how to play hard.
“When we beat Oregon,” Kravish said, “that game showed us how we had to play. We’ve got to play hard as a team every game, every minute.”
USC won’t be the only team at Haas Pavilion that’s hiked its level since a month ago.
“Obviously, we’re playing better now,” said Montgomery. “Guys have figured out what they can and can’t do, how to take advantage of certain things. We’re playing with a lot of condidence. Part of it is because we’re playing harder. We don’t have as many mental lapses.”
The wave of momentum the Bears are riding is a natural byproduct of success, Montgomery suggested.
“The feeling they had at Arizona was pretty special,” he said. “Those kids were on Cloud 9. To go into that facility and win, there’s a little carryover knowing the effort is worth. They’re talking to one another, holding each other accountable, trying to get each other to play hard.”
Junior Allen Crabbe said it’s been a process.
“We feel as a team we’re unstoppable,” he said. “There were some bumps in the road (early) in the conference. I feel like everybody’s more on the same page. We’re trusting each other to make plays more. I just really feel like our team intensity is good.”
ABOUT THE TROJANS: USC is 5-3 since Bob Cantu was installed as interim coach on Jan. 14, replacing Kevin O’Neill. The Trojans have won five of their past seven games and four in a row, including a 65-64 win at Stanford on Thursday. USC has not won more than four games in a row since an eight-game streak in 2009. … One of the primary beneficiaries of the coaching change is junior G J.T. Terrell, whose scoring average jumped from 9.3 ppg under O’Neill to 13.5 under Cantu. Terrell did not even play in the first Cal game. … The Trojans scored at a 63.8 ppg clip with O’Neill as coach and are averaging 71.1 with Cantu. … USC has blocked 129 shots this season, second-most in the Pac-12. … Junior wing Ari Stewart (4.4 ppg), who broke his left thumb on Feb. 10, remains out.
THE SERIES: Cal leads 132-120. The Bears won 72-64 in Los Angeles on Jan. 5 behind 27 points from Allen Crabbe. Cal has won three in a row.
ETC: Allen Crabbe has moved to No. 12 on Cal’s career scoring list with 1,401 points. Next up: Rickey Hawthorne (1973-76) with 1,413 points. … Cal’s win at Arizona bumped the Bears from No. 75 in the RPI to No. 59. They gravitated up to No. 62 over the next couple days, but the win over UCLA improved them to No. 57.
WHAT’S NEXT: Cal plays Oregon on Thursday at Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene, Ore. Tipoff is 6 p.m.
Cal (15-9, 7-5 Pac-12)
|SG Allen Crabbe||6-6||Jr.||19.6||5.5|
|PF Richard Solomon||6-10||Jr.||8.4||6.5|
|PF David Kravish||6-9||So.||8.3||7.0|
|PG Justin Cobbs||6-2||Jr.||14.5||4.5*|
|SG Tyrone Wallace||6-3||Fr.||7.3||4.6|
|G Brandon Smith||5-11||Sr.||2.8||2.1*|
|C Robert Thurman||6-10||Sr.||5.0||3.8|
|F Bak Bak||6-9||Sr.||1.9||1.0|
USC (12-13, 7-5 Pac-12)
|PR Dewayne Dedmon||7-0||Jr.||6.6||7.0|
|SF Eric Wise||6-6||Sr.||12.2||5.8|
|SG Byron Wesley||6-5||So.||10.1||4.6|
|SG J.T. Terrell||6-3||Jr.||10.7||1.9|
|PG Jio Fontan||6-0||Sr.||9.6||5.1*|
|F Aaron Fuller||6-6||Sr.||4.8||3.8|
|C Omar Oraby||7-2||Jr.||4.4||2.7|
|G Chass Bryan||5-9||Fr.||2.4||1.5*|