Photo: Cal Athletic Site
Cal is coming off a tough loss against UCLA, which was almost as bad as USC's loss to Stanford on Thursday. The Pac 10 is showing why it is the toughest conference in the NCAA. The Pac 10 currently has 4 teams in the top 25 RPI Rankings with Arizona and UCLA ranked #1 & #2 respectively in strength of schedule.
SC needs to come out of the gates quickly and set the tone for their game. They will need to contain Ryan Anderson's 3-point ability and keep him off the boards, as he is one of the best in the country. They also need to get a handle on G Ayinde Ubaka. He gave SC fits last season after a slow start in their first meeting, he has been out with a stomach virus and he was held scoreless against UCLA but I wouldn't count on him sitting this one out. F Eric Vierneisel will be out of today's game due to a sprained ankle suffered in practice on Wednesday, Cal will miss his height and 4.6 ppg. F Theo Robertson has stepped up his game of late averaging 17.5 ppg and shooting 14-24 (58.3%). With Vierneisal out there isn't much depth on the Cal bench, they will have to rely on Senior G Alex Pribble, Freshman G Jerome Randle and Freshman C Taylor Harrison who have some game but can be exploited. Now, it's not all doom and gloom for SC, Cal is 0-5 against ranked teams while SC beaten 4 ranked opponents and almost a 5th against UCLA.
This game is critical for a number of reasons, winning gets them back on track. Losing would be a step backward in a season where we have seen some real improvement but where SC has yet to close the deal in some close games or avoid the type of blow-out that we saw against Stanford. This is where Coach Tim Floyd will earn his money, as losing will also hurt their chances to get into the tournament. At this point in the season we can no longer afford bad losses that will give the committee pause in whether or not we deserve to be in the tournament.
As Bolch points out in the LAT:
"We have a very challenging assignment here, a team that beat Stanford at Stanford and a team that is coming off a loss," USC Coach Tim Floyd said of Cal. "You recognize that a split would be very good given the quality of these teams."
As I said yesterday, I'm not sure that we are ready for primetime, that's my opinion but I am willing to have my changed with a reasonable argument. I certainly wouldn't characterize SC flying under the radar as before this season we have just not been that good, but now that we have most of the pieces in place and have had some success people are taking notice but just like football when you get successful other teams want to take you out just like we saw on Thursday.
Sure, the recognition is nice, but it also puts a bull's-eye on the team.
Opponents get excited at the opportunity to knock off a ranked team.
The Trojans know something about that, having beaten four ranked foes on their way to being ranked.
The extra motivation can lead to extraordinary performances. What else explains Brook Lopez's 12 blocks for Stanford when he had 13 total in the previous 17 games?
"That's new for us, going out there knowing we was one of the top teams in the country," USC forward Nick Young said. "Everyone is going to be up to play us."
Even UCLA has to be careful of not getting complacent. Success brings recognition and recognition brings about attitude. Its only natural that people will put targets on your chest when things are going good.
To me this game is pivotal, a win means we shake off Stanford and forge ahead. A loss will only bring doubt and more questions of "are we ready."