The Bears did exactly what every Cal fan hoped they would do against USC: Win, and win decisively.
And it's that decisive part that is particularly satisfying. Prior to this season, Cal had trouble beating USC at all. Now they are recording 19 point wins and taking 27 point leads and basically dominating in wonderful ways. It's been fun to see the progression throughout the season - in each subsequent game against the Trojans, Cal's offense and defense have been incrementally more efficient.
That speaks to a group of players and a coaching staff that get better and take lessons away from every single game. It also speaks to a group of post players who aren't interested in letting another team's defense dictate their ability to impact the game.
After getting destroyed by Gennifer Brandon in Berkeley, USC packed the paint. They tried again Friday, and it didn't work so well. USC still packed the paint, but Caldwell and Brandon still combined for 29 points and 25 rebounds.
Really, though, it was the balance that was impressive. in previewing the game, I talked about USC picking their poison - either you let the bigs roam free underneath, or you give space to the guards to penetrate and hit jumpers. I don't know what USC wanted to take away specifically, but in the end they didn't really stop anyone, other than perhaps Clarendon, who realized quickly that she didn't need to take a ton of shots the way everybody else was playing. It's weird to say that four Cal starters scored in double figures and one of them wasn't Clarendon, but that's the joy of having depth of talent.
And that depth of talent should be well rested. The value of a blowout this time of year is that nobody on Cal's roster had to play more than 31 minutes, conserving energy for the rest of the weekend.
Of course, the coaches and players mostly praised the defensive effort. Cal sent USC to the line a few to many times, but beyond that it was as good a defensive performance as you could hope for. 33% shooting, 16 turnovers and just 10 USC offensive rebounds. USC only scored 39 points from the field - it's not going to get much better than that.
The next goal? Do the same thing to UCLA. It will be tough for Cal to top what they did to the Bruins when the teams met a few weeks ago in L.A., but if they do they will cruise into the finals with a 6-0 record against the L.A. schools.
The Bruins struggled at times with Utah before pulling away over the last 8 minutes of the game for an ugly 11 point win. UCLA hasn't lost since the Bay Area schools visited, but they haven't quite been firing on all cylinders. Markel Walker has been playing hurt for some time now, and the team just doesn't seem quite as dangerous as they did earlier in the year. The good news for Cal is that, no matter how they are playing at the moment, the Bruins (RPI 13) still represent a valuable resume win as they make the case for a #1 seed.
More importantly, UCLA is just a good match-up for Cal. The Bruins let the Bears run, they don't play pressure defense, they are turnover prone, and they don't pack the paint. It's not a surprise that Cal's most aesthetically awesome win came in Westwood.
Tonight's game tips at 6:00 pm, again on the Pac-12 Network. One more win, and then the real drama starts.