USC 77, Cal 69: Reality check at Galen

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

It's all part of our plan to lull Arizona into a false sense of security

On one hand, these games happen. Effort isn't always 100%, players have down games (especially on the road), you face a bad match-up, and sometimes you get opponent's A game.

On the other hand, a 5-0 team lost to an 0-5 team that had been completely non-competitive in every loss. That's never a good thing.

USC, frankly, didn't look like an 0-5 team any more than they looked like an up and down, run and gun team. Andy Enfield's Dunk City moniker came from crazy alley oop layups in transition, but Dunk City was different against Cal. It was Dunk City in the half court set, when dribble penetration and defensive break downs in the lane created opportunity after opportunity for USC's big men to throw down.

Frankly, Enfield's USC reminded me of what Monty's Cal teams look like on a good day. Lots of open looks inside. Lots of assists. Great rim protection inside. Opportunistic in transition without relying on it to score. Enfield can't really run his preferred system, so instead he out-Monty'd Monty. This guy might be annoying as long as he's in the conference.

Was there maybe a sliver of a chance for Cal to steal this game, with USC playing close to their best? Maybe. The Bears certainly missed their share of decent looks both at the basket and from behind the line, and Cal shot a bit worse from the line than they could have, so there were points to be had that didn't come.

USC's defense seemed designed to make Tyrone Wallace or Jordan Mathews beat it. Cal had an awful time trying to get the ball down low to Solomon or Kravish, and in the rare instances when they got the ball in a position to maybe make something happen, they were immediately faced with one or more players that could at least match them in height and weight. That left the burden on Cal's guards, and Justin Cobbs certainly wasn't lacking for attention. Unfortunately, both Wallace and Mathews struggled mightily to finish inside as well, and neither could get their jumpers going with any consistency.

With some of Cal's starters struggling, it would have been a good night for bench contributions. Alas, Christian Behrens got very limited minutes, likely due to recent knee swelling. Jeff Powers struggled with USC's athleticism on defense, and Jabari Bird was relatively passive with the few minutes he got. Kameron Rooks probably had the biggest impact off the bench with a few tough rebounds, a steal and a nifty put-back, but he's still learning defensively.

Ugh, I don't want to talk about this any more. I try not to be harsh because I'm just some dude on the internet. If you want harsh comments, just read some quotes from Monty about this one. Roll the chart.

PAINFUL CHART OF DEFEAT


Shooting, man. If you didn't watch the game, you might see this chart and just say, "Damn, well, USC just happened to shoot really well, and Cal just happened to shoot really poorly, what are you gonna do?" Alas, no. USC made 15 shots that were either layups or dunks. Most of USC's 25 free throw attempts were fouls to prevent those types of shots. USC's offense created great shots, and USC's defense prevented the same.

So where to we stand now? Well, this one hurts Cal's conference title chances. Except that Arizona is the best team in the nation, undefeated, and they were already heavy favorites before Cal lost this game. And I guess it hurts our tournament resume, although road losses to borderline top 100 teams shouldn't hurt too bad.

Mostly, it's just frustrating that Cal didn't come out with 100% effort in a conference game, against an in-state rival. It's frustrating timing, because Cal was just beginning to build some fan momentum. It's frustrating that, no matter how explicable the loss may be, it's a sacrificed opportunity to do something more.

Beat UCLA and we'll forget about this one pretty quick.

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