The Bears carry a four game losing streak into today's game against the USC Trojans. Unlike the Bears, USC still clings to slim NCAA tournament hopes, and will look at Cal as a must win game. The Trojans will also be looking to avenge their earlier loss in Berkeley. Cal won that matchup 82-71 in perhaps their finest offensive performance of the season. They will need a similarly effective effort to win on the road and secure a somewhat surprising season sweep.
All four of Cal's defeats in their current losing streak have come against teams that like to slow the ball down, and as I described earlier that's the exact type of style the Bears can't seem to deal with. Thankfully USC tends to play a very up-tempo style that plays much more to Cal's strengths. DeNesha Stallworth has always played some of her best games against USC's undersized bigs, and Layshia Clarendon and Eliza Pierre find passing lanes with much greater success against USC's iffy defense.
For Cal to pull the upset they'll likely have to defend USC better than they did earlier in the year. Cal won in Berkeley in part because they went 9-18 from three point range, and I think anybody who has followed this team for the last two years knows that they will be hard pressed to repeat that performance. So if Cal isn't as red-hot from the field this time around they'll have to get more stops on defense. It was Cassie Harberts who surprisingly led USC's offensive charge with a 7-10 shooting performance, though Brianna Gilbreath led the Trojans in scoring. The pressure will be on DeNesha Stallworth and Talia Caldwell to do a better job on Harberts and Kari LaPlante, who combined to go 11-15 from the field.
True, any NCAA tournament hopes rest on an extremely unlikely run in the Pac-10 tournament. But at the very least it would be nice if the Bears could win a tough road game and try to build a little positive momentum going into the 2011-12 season. Beating a rival with fledgling tourney hopes of their own would be a great way to do it. Go Bears!