* 5 p.m. Sunday at Haas Pavilion (FoxSports1)
Is it too simple to suggest Cal must beat USC on Sunday evening or say goodbye to a potential NCAA tournament at-large bid?
Mathematically, a defeat wouldn’t eliminate the Golden Bears (17-9, 9-5).
Realistically, Cal cannot afford a second loss to the last-place Trojans (10-16, 1-12).
There just would be no way to explain away another defeat to a team that has beaten no one else since the calendar flipped to 2014.
To a team playing this weekend without suspended top scorer and rebounder Byron Wesley.
To a team that has won just one road game all season.
To a team coming off a 21-point loss at Stanford.
Cal began the Pac-12 schedule with five straight wins, three of them on the road. The Bears are 3-5 since then. That spiral of inconsistency began with a 77-69 loss to the Trojans.
“We’ve been up and down,” coach Mike Montgomery said after Cal’s 86-66 loss to UCLA on Wednesday. “We’ve played poorly at times and we’ve played well at times.
“Oddly enough, we’ve sort of played poorly at home. I don’t know what it is. We have a little bit of difficulty figuring out how to get ourselves ready to compete.”
There are four regular-season Pac-12 games remaining after Sunday, plus the conference tournament. Perhaps time enough to puff up a resume.
But the Bears travel to the desert next week for challenging games against Arizona and Arizona State. It only gets tougher.
This is not one they want to give away.
A win over the Trojans will elevate the Bears into a tie for third place with Stanford and, possibly, ASU. The Sun Devils, also 8-5 in the conference, play at Utah.
Senior point guard Justin Cobbs, with 485 career assists, is nine shy of moving even with Jason Kidd for fourth on Cal’s all-time list. Kidd, of course, accumulated his total in two seasons.
Freshman guard Jordan Mathews is averaging 17.3 points in three games against the Pac-12’s Los Angeles schools. But he’s been much better this season in nine road games (13.3 ppg) than in 14 home games (6.6 ppg).
Cal had won four straight over the Trojans before losing at Galen Center last month.
USC is 8-1 when freshman forward Nikola Jovanovic scores in double digits. He had a career-high 23 points in the first game vs. Cal.
The Trojans are 7-0 when holding opponents under 70 points. They are 3-16 in all other games.