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Cal Men’s Basketball Preview: Golden Bears Look to Bounce Back Against USC

Conference victory remains elusive for California, is the 13th time the charm? 

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at California
California is on a 13-match losing streak and has dropped all 12 conference games this season.
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

It’s always crowded at Heartbreak Hotel, as the California Golden Bears and its fans will be quick to remind you.

Earlier this week California lost its first overtime match against the UCLA Bruins in seven years. And while the Golden Bears have yet to secure a conference win this season, they were composed in their play — leading for much of the contest against their southern U.C. rivals Wednesday. California undid a strong first half performance with missed defensive assignments in the second half and a poor overtime showing in which they scored only three points.

The USC Trojans (13-12, 6-6 Pac-12) visit Haas Pavilion Saturday, and the California Golden Bears (5-9, 0-12 Pac-12) are expected to take out their frustrations on a middling Pac-12 side suffering from a three-game losing streak in close contests against the Stanford Cardinal, Colorado Buffaloes and Utah Utes.

“Stay positive. It’s going to come and when it does come, who knows what happens after that,” California Head Coach Wyking Jones responded when asked about a first conference win in the post-game press conference Wednesday.

California will look to guard Darius McNeill, who scored 18 points in the last time out, and team leader Justice Sueing for leadership. Sueing has scored double-digits in the previous six games for the Golden Bears and is expected to do the same yet again.

The most exciting matchup Saturday will be whose workhorse comes out on top — California’s Sueing or USC’s Nick Rakocevic. Rakocevic leads the conference with 11 double-doubles and has completed five matches with 20 or more points and 10 or more rebounds. With a weak bench, USC will hope its starting forwards — Rakocevic and Bennie Boatwright — continue to post strong contributions to the scoreline. A trip to Heartbreak Hotel at the hands of bottom-rung California may await them if they don’t.

Projected USC Trojans Starters

  1. Jonah Mathews, guard: 12.8 points per game, 3 rebounds per game, 2.2 assists per game
  2. Shaqquan Aaron, guard: 8.7 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game, 2.2 assists per game
  3. Derryck Thornton, guard: 8.3 points per game, 3.2 rebounds per game, 4.7 assists per game
  4. Nick Rakocevic, forward: 15.6 points per game, 9.8 rebounds per game, 1.4 assists per game
  5. Bennie Boatwright, forward: 17.7 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game, 2.4 rebounds per game

Key USC Trojans Reserves

  1. Elijah Weaver, guard: 4.7 points per game, 1.5 rebounds per game, 2 assists per game
  2. Kevin Porter, Jr., guard: 8.7 points per game, 3.6 rebounds per game, 1.6 assists per game
  3. J’Raan Brooks, forward: 1.9 points per game, 1.4 rebounds per game, 0.2 assists per game
  4. Victor Uyaelunmo, forward: 0.8 points per game, 1.4 rebounds per game, 0.1 assists per game

Following the Bears

California faces off against USC Saturday at 5 p.m. PT. The match will be broadcast live from Haas Pavilion on the Pac-12 Networks and the California Golden Bears Sports Network on KGO 810 AM.