#22 USC (9-3) vs. Cal (9-2) - Game Preview
When: Thursday, Jan. 3rd @ 7:30 PM (PST)
Where: Haas Pavilion (Berkeley, CA)
Watch: ESPN Radio 710
Cal is one of those teams you don't hear much about, but know they could be as dangerous as any team in the conference. A perfect example of this was in the Pac-10 tournament last year when they knocked off UCLA in the 2nd round off a big game from Ayinde Ubaka. Despite losing Ubaka and the other half of the backcourt in Omar Wilkes, the Bears return, in my opinion, as a better team. We all know about their talented big man, Ryan Anderson, who was among the top freshmen in the conference last season, but many people forget that they also got DeVon Hardin back from injury and added a solid contributor at forward in Duke transfer, Jamal Boykin. Jamal likely won't be a big factor in this game, but DeVon is an impressive big man that can give us headaches down low. He's a legit NBA prospect based on his size (6'11 250lb) and athleticism alone.
The most surprising player on the Cal squad this season has been sophomore guard Patrick Christopher. I remember watching Patrick play in limited minutes last season and thinking that he had real talent, and it has shown this season as he's emerged as Cal's second leading scorer, averaging 17 points per game. For SC to win, I think it will come down to neutralizing Christopher, who will most likely be guarded by O.J. or Daniel. SC does a good enough job against the primary scorers on teams (e.g. CDR, Rose, Rush, etc.), but it's always the secondary scorers that kill us (e.g. Mario Chalmers). We can let Ryan Anderson get his 20, but it will be our defense against players like Christopher, Randle, and Hardin that will be the difference in this game. With the pressure of conference play at hand and the team facing a hostile environment, I think this game will be close. One thing benefitting SC in this match-up is our experience against tough teams and that may be the difference of this game, but I honestly wouldn't be surprised if we came out 0-2 on this road trip.
Prediction: W by 3