The Bears sit a #6 in the nation, tied for 1st in the Pac-12, with a ten game winning streak. And yet they still have unfinished business.
And that's because USC is next up on the schedule. More than any other team, the Trojans have been Cal's boogeyman over the last few years. Sure, Stanford has been pretty tough to beat, but that's because they're really friggin' good. USC has given Cal fits despite the fact that the Bears are the more talented team.
The latest example came earlier this year, when USC came closer than every other team in the conference to giving Cal their 2nd loss. It took absurd heroics from Gennifer Brandon just to force overtime, let alone win.
Correlation is not necessarily causation, but that loss to Cal sent USC into a tailspin that they have yet to recover from. The Trojans entered Haas with a perfect conference record. Since then they are just 1-8 with bad losses to Arizona State and Washington State. Is there any way that such a struggling team could give Cal trouble?
Logic says no, but USC/Cal games have repeatedly defied logic. So I'm on high alert.
Since this is another rematch, here's quick look at what went right and what went wrong against USC the first time:
Things To Do/Not Do Again
Do harass Ariya Crook on defense, but don't send her to the line: Crook is a dangerous player, but she's also prone to turnovers and misses lots of shots. She can make your life a living hell if you leave her open from 3 and if you put her on the line, and Cal did both when USC visited in January. It's almost unbelievable that she scored 21 points despite making only 4 shots from the field, but that's what she's capable of doing.
Don't shoot 31% from the field again: Everybody packs in it in the paint against Cal, but USC is one of the few teams that seem to be able to actually succeed with the strategy. Maybe it fits their players, maybe it's just luck that Cal can't seem to shoot against the Trojans. But whatever the case, the Bears and the coaching staff need to find a way to crack USC's defense. That probably starts with better games from the guards. Layshia Clarendon and Brittany Boyd combined to shoot just 16-50 against USC the first time around. If they perform closer to their season norms the game should be much more comfortable.
Do have Gen Brandon go nuts again: Of course, Gen is welcome to go off in every game. But she seems to be the only Bear that particularly relishes playing the Trojans. Just look at the stat lines from her last two games against USC:
38 minutes, 17 points, 23 rebounds
40 minutes, 26 points, 25 rebounds
Methinks that USC just doesn't have the talent inside to slow her down. 20 rebounds might be asking a lot (and I hope that Cal makes so many shots that she doesn't even have the opportunity) but it's nice to know that she's capable if we need it.