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Hoops Preview: Q & A with California Golden Blogs

After one crazy signing day on the football side of things, today brings a highly competitive Pac-10 basketball matchup against California, which is presently ranked first in the conference. The Golden Bears already beat the Trojans once this year by a score of 67-59 so 'SC will be looking for a little payback against their northern California rivals. To breakdown the visiting Bears, we brought in the folks from SB Nation's very own California Golden Blogs.

1.) Cal has been playing pretty well as of late (3 wins in their past 4 games), but ended up losing to Arizona by four points last Saturday. Was their most recent loss a reflection of a team on the decline or more indicative of a young Arizona bunch simply improving as the season progresses?

Cal's loss to Arizona reflects both Arizona's improvement and the difficulty of consistently winning on the road. Cal is unlikely to rise or decline in terms of results unless their are big health changes - the Bears are led by relatively consistent seniors. We know what we'll get from them. Cal's loss mostly stemmed from an inability to stop Nic Wise in any way, particularly at the end of the game

2.) The last time Cal faced USC, Dwight Lewis had a big performance for the Trojans with 20 points on 50% shooting. Do you anticipate the Bears slowing down Lewis in the second contest?

It's pretty likely that Cal will make Lewis a major focus of their defensive gameplan. When Cal last played USC the Bear's best defender, Jorge Gutierrez, was out with an injury. Jorge is back, but it's unlikely that he'll be at 100% - and he needs to be 100% to effectively play his relentless style of pressure defense. Ideally someone like Patrick Christopher would be able to slow down Lewis, but if not be prepared to see Nikola Knezevic, who effectively shadowed Lewis for the last 10 minutes of the previous game.

3.) Additionally, Cal dominated the point guard matchup in their last meeting. Jerome Randle finished with 21 points and 5 assists, while 'SC's Mike Gerrity recorded just 4 points and 0 assists. Will Randle have the same type of success this time around?

Randle's performance against USC was a pretty typical effort for Jerome - if I recall correctly he had some success driving on USC but wasn't able to get open for his usual 3 pointers because USC plays such a suffocating man defense. Gerrity's struggles against Cal surprised me if only because he had been playing well coming into the game and Jerome Randle, for all his talents, isn't the greatest defender. If Gerrity can exploit Randle on offense and/or prevent dribble drives and open 3's on defense it would go a long long way to beating Cal - Randle is turnover prone, particularly when he gets frustrated and tries to do everything himself.

4.) In addition to Randle-Gerrity, what other matchups do you see leaning in Cal's favor?

I would call the Christopher-Lewis matchup pretty even, and the Cal bigs vs. USC bigs slightly in USC's favor. That leaves Cal small forward Theo Robertson vs. USC small forward Marcus Johnson. Theo went for 20 points and played a full 40 minutes against USC last time and I think he's a tough matchup for most defenders because he's an excellent 3 point shooter but he has enough size and strength to drive the lane effectively. He's not amazingly gifted athletically, but he's a 5th year senior with excellent court sense, so his defense is generally solid. - Show quoted text -

5.) Lastly, what's your prediction for the game?

Quickly, let me check if the Bears are all healthy...overall, I think Cal has more talent on its roster than USC (more experience, too), but they are not a deep team, and injuries or illness to key players have left the team depleted at times and vulnerable... ...and I'm back. Looks like 6th man Jorge Gutierrez may still be limited, and I can't confirm whether center Markhuri Sanders-Frison, our biggest body inside, will be able to play after missing the Arizona road swing due to back spasms. If both those guys are able to contribute 10-15 solid minutes, I think the Bears can take the Trojans. Otherwise...we could be looking at another tight, defensive game, and if the score is closer to being in the 60s vs in the 80s, I'm worried. Prediction: Bears by 4. Maybe. I'm hardly confident, and honestly, as long as we beat UCLA on Saturday, I'll be satisfied with this week.