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Cal Basketball

USC Preview: Bears Have a Shot

February 15, 2019

Cal came close to ending its losing streak Wednesday night, taking UCLA to overtime before dropping its 13th consecutive game.

The Bears (5-19, 0-12 Pac-12) have another decent chance at their first conference victory in more than a year Saturday when USC (13-12, 6-6) comes to Haas Pavilion for a 5 p.m. tipoff.

The Bears did lose to USC in their conference opener, 82-73, 11 losses ago. But there are reasons for optimism this time. The Trojans are not the same team they were in January. They have lost three straight and four of their last five games overall and seven of eight away from Galen Center. The only victory in each instance was at Washington State, Feb. 2. And Nick Rakocevic, the 6-11 forward who torched the Bears for 27 points in January and a month ago was being touted as a candidate for conference Player of the Year, has been marginalized recently. In the home losses to Utah and Colorado last week he was held to a combined total of 17 points. In the loss to Stanford on Wednesday,  he did not even start the game, only the second time this year that has happened.

One reason could be his propensity for picking up flagrant fouls. He has been called for five this season. He had one against Cal that obviously did not damage USC's chances, although it did irk coach Andy Enfield. Against Utah, he committed one that did hurt his team. 

“Honestly, we’re just tired of it,” Enfield told the L.A. media after the Utah game.  “He has to start to act like a veteran player. ... “He just has to stop it. He’s too good of a player and is playing too well.”

Another factor in the Bears' favor is the improvement of Cal's 7-3 freshman Connor Vanover. He is giving Cal more of a force in the middle, something that was missing in January.

"From the beginning of the season until now it’s way different," Vanover said Wednesday night after he played UCLA's Moses Brown on even terms. "I think every game I go further and further.  I am going to get more confidence, being able to battle with these bigs. 

"My body definitely (has changed). I have gained a little bit of weight, I have been in the weight room a lot. It’s been paying off. I am getting faster and stronger."

Freshman guard Kevin Porter Jr, the crown jewel of USC's outstanding recruiting class, was suspended and did not play against the Bears in January. Between the suspension (two games) and a cranky quad he has been limited to 14 games, although he has been on the court for the last seven. But he hasn’t given SC quite the boost it expected.  He has averaged just 8.9 points for the season and the Trojans are 3-4 in their recent stretch.

Prior to the Stanford game, in which he scored ten points off the bench, he was asked if he was "100 percent". 

“I feel like I’m high 80s,” he said. "But there’s some days that I can’t practice. It gets irritated. When I was out, I had to put pressure on everything else, so a lot of my body is breaking down right now.

“It just took a toll on my explosiveness and athleticism. I’m not able to jump as fast or as high as I used to right now. I’ve just got to adjust, be more crafty and be a playmaker.”

USC's reserves have not been all that productive. Even factoring in Porter the Trojan reserves were outscored by the opponents' bench 236-92 in the 11 conference games prior to Wednesday.
Senior forward Bennie Boatwright (25 above) leads the Trojans in scoring at 17.6 points per game, third in the conference. He had 19 in the first game. Boatwright, Derryck Thornton and Shaqquan Aaron have collectively scored 43 percent of all USC’s points this season, including 45 percent of over the last five games.

The Trojans had 387 assists going into the Stanford game, most in the conference, 

Discussion from...

USC Preview: Bears Have a Shot

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Height and coaching.
Yogi Bear
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A shot at what?

Golden One
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Yogi Bear said:

A shot at what?

At going 0-19 in conference. Looks like a virtual certainty at this point.
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