We can talk about Pete Carroll and NCAA investigations all day long, but 'SC does have an important conference matchup with the Cal Bears, who are regarded as the early season favorites to win the Pac-10. While the Trojans are unable to play in any postseason tournament due to self-imposed NCAA sanctions, they do have the opportunity to win the conference regular season championship for the first time since 1985. That alone should be motivation for players to keep competing, and for fans to turn on their television sets.
Seeing that as their goal, the Trojans, who are 2-1 in the conference and trail Oregon and Washington State in the standings, will likely have heir hands full against a tough Cal team:
SCOUTING THE GOLDEN BEARS -- California is coming off a 76-75 overtime loss vs. UCLA on Jan. 6, its first home loss of the season (8-1). Cal, the Pac-10 preseason favorite, is led by senior guards Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher who are averaging 19.0 and 16.1 points per game respectively. USC took two of three games from California last season, but trails in the all-time series 118-126. USC lost at California in overtime last season, 81-78.
While the Bears are certainly vulnerable right now, as evident by their loss to UCLA earlier in the week, the Trojans have not faired much better - at least this week. They must deal with their first defeat since December 5th, when they were embarrased on the road at Georgia Tech:
USC'S COMEBACK FALLS SHORT -- Stanford's Jarrett Mann hit one of two free throws with 10 seconds left and the Cardinal held on for a 54-53 win over USC in Palo Alto on Jan. 6 as the Trojans missed several opportunities before the buzzer. USC had trailed by seven points with just over a minute left, but rallied to tie it at 53-all capped by a Leonard Washington three-pointer. The Trojans trailed for all but 22 seconds early in the first half before forging the tie. The Trojans had their eight-game winning streak snapped, their longest since winning nine consecutive games Nov. 25-Dec. 23, 2005. USC has now lost eight consecutive games at Maples Pavilion.
After nearly a week since the gut-wrenching announcement regarding the NCAA sanctions, I am hopeful that this team put's the frustrating events of the past few days behind them and rebounds with a solid performance against Cal. On paper, they matchup well against the Bears, who lack the interior presence that the Trojans have. If Mike Gerrity is able to control the tempo by slowing the game down and feed the big guys, Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic, then it is reasonable to believe that they could leave the Bay Area with a split. However, in light of recent events, the mental state of the team is something to be considered as well and it is nearly impossible to measure that at this point.