Thursday night at Galen Center, USC ran Stanford off the court, holding the Cardinal to just 42 en route to a 23-point home win. It was unquestionably an important lift for a team that had been embarrassed in its previous two matchups at Oregon and Oregon State.
And they did so through defense, limiting Stanford to its worst shooting performance since the advent of the shot clock (22.2%). By contrast, 'SC made 56 percent of its shot attempts en route to salvaging its record in conference play. Fortunately, the Trojans didn't face a zone defense, which has served as the team's cryptologist thus far this season, much like a season ago. Today, however, Kevin O'Neill's team should see some zone. Per Pedro Moura of ESPNLA:
Kevin O'Neill alluded to it not 10 minutes after Thursday's game ended, in his postgame press conference, saying he expects the Golden Bears to use a good portion of zone Saturday. Nikola Vucevic said the same thing afterward
"They'll play more zone," O'Neill said of Cal compared to Stanford. "Their inside players are a little bigger. If we play anything less than 100% on defense, we won't win."
That covers just about all of USC's primary concerns. The zone is an issue, the size of the defenders is an issue, and the defensive performance is an issue -- keeping it up, basically. We'll see to those later.
But both men also expected Stanford to use a zone Thursday, and -- save for two or three plays -- the Cardinal stuck in a man-to-man all game long. USC still hasn't proven it can beat a zone defense, consistently or even in spurts. And with Bryce Jones out, the Trojans are even weaker in terms of outside shooting.
For the time being, let's put the Bryce Jones issue aside. USC, for much of the season, has had nagging issues when facing a zone defense. Will that be any different Saturday night? We can hope. Recently, they have shot the ball increasingly well at home and Cal has experienced a noticeable decline since its NCAA Tournament run last spring. This team should be able to capitalize off an inexperienced, youthful group. But then again, many of us said the same thing prior to 'SC's Oregon roadtrip. Hopefully, something's different tonight.
For game coverage, check out Fox Sports West, which will be televising tonight's contest. I'll be in the student section tonight, so if you're for additional commentary, check out the Daily Trojan's live blog hosted by Dave Dulberg.