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Cal Pops Their Bubble With Awful Pac-10 Tournament Showing Against USC

Well, those twelve hours on the bubble were super fun. How much did you enjoy it?

Cal looked solid early in their defense, hounding Nikola Vucevic and keeping the Trojans guards at the perimeter. The Bears tried to take the game to them, which helped give them the early lead, but it also seemed to take them out of their offense, as Cal looked sloppy early on and really missed a chance to put this game out of reach. They will look back at those first ten minutes as a huge wasted opportunity.

Then Donte Smith and Maurice Jones nailed a few threes. Cal overreacted and started playing close up on the three point line, and USC went to the basket. Over and over, again and again. They got our bigs in foul trouble and flustered our guards. Brandon Smith has given us his all this year, but this game proved why he needs to be our backup, because Jones took him into the torture chamber and left the water dripping on his head all game long.  D. Smith and Jones made things happen at the basket, Alex Stepheson cleaned up, and USC poured it on in the second half. Our defense has been sinking all season, and it finally drowned in a flurry of dribble penetration and USC shooters knocking down threes, contested or open. Cal's lack of perimeter length did them in.

(For the Cal women's game, click here; For the Men's Pac-10 tournament open thread, click here)

The other story of this game was the Trojan defense, which picked it up after their sloppy start and shut us down. Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp picked the worst time to have their worst games of the season, and I'm not sure I've ever seen Gutierrez play worse. Gutierrez seems to have found his defensive Achilles heel in speedy guards, as D. Smith and Jio Fontan torched him on several occasions, and he didn't play well at all offensively, passing up a lot of good looks to draw and dish the ball inside (2 for 10). Kamp was solid defensively on Vucevic (3 for 10), but shot 3 for 10 himself.  Combine their performances with Markhuri Sanders-Frison, and the upperclassmen went 6 for 25 from the field. Not going to win many games with that type of production.

Gutierrez and Smith also had all sorts of trouble hanging onto the ball, combining for 13 turnovers (Cal had a ghastly 0.625 assist to turnover ratio). Credit goes to the length of USC swallowing up any sort of ball movement for the Bears. The Condoms much much better than their pedestrian 10-8 conference showing.  Their defense is all sorts of scary with Vucevic, Stepheson and Simmons are actively engaged and Smith and Jones are jumping passing lanes, and I don't envy the teams that have to go up against it the rest of the way, especially if they do make their way to the NCAA tournament.

If there's a bright side, it's the young guns. Allen Crabbe continues to look like a special player, putting up 21 points despite being played most of the game by Marcus Simmons. Richard Solomon has never looked better, making the most of his open looks and racking up 11 points. They're going to be super fun to watch next year on what could be a very intriguing team.

So Cal will now wait to find out if they're going to a postseason tournament. Bracket Project had us as a fourth seed in the NIT earlier this week, although we won't know for sure until Sunday night 6 PM PT/9 PM ET for the NIT Selection Show on ESPNU. Stay tuned.