USC: Cal

Analyze that: USC and Cal

October, 14, 2011
10/14/11
10:28
AM PT
Pedro Moura and Kyle Williams analyze USC's win over Cal.



The Trojans take a stand

October, 13, 2011
10/13/11
11:22
PM PT

SAN FRANCISCO – For six weeks, this USC football team survived with a style that was intricate, even stylish at times, but ultimately unconvincing.

Thursday night, at a baseball stadium where the home team won a championship by keeping the other team from scoring, the Trojans finally showed their obstinate side. It was disruptive, ugly at times, alternately impressive and drab. But the USC defense, having allowed 84 points the previous two weeks, finally closed the circle.

Thursday’s 30-9 win over Cal at AT&T Park might have been the first inkling we’ve had that this can be a complete team.

“It was much more important for this team to win like that, have a game like that for our confidence, after all the things our defense has been hearing about, the staff, the players, everyone involved,” coach Lane Kiffin said.

The Cal offense, perhaps gassed after its brush with Oregon the week before, couldn’t have looked much more feeble and halting. The USC offense was better only in its ability to hold onto the ball.

Cal rushed for 35 yards and turned the ball over five times. The USC pass rush wasn’t so much explosive as relentless, keeping quarterback Zach Maynard flustered and Cal’s brilliant receiver, Keenan Allen, in check.

The USC linebackers, which have been a worry since Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga left en masse a couple of years ago, made game-changing plays. When was the last time that happened? The catalyst, apparently, has been redshirt freshman Dion Bailey, vastly undersized but with a nose for the ball. Bailey picked off two passes and recovered a fumble, led the team with eight tackles and made some punishing hits. Chris Galippo held onto another interception, stuffed right between the “5” and the “4” on his jersey, that led to a chip-shot field goal.

Defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron said he saw in his players’ eyes that this was going to be a turning-point week. It had that feel, but nobody’s going to view it that way if the Trojans travel to Notre Dame next week and revert to their form against the Arizona schools, when the defense seemed to be only a phantom.

USC is 5-1 (3-1 in the conference), but even the players and staff seem to be in wait-and-see mode. Maybe that’s because three of their next five games are on the road and two of the next five are against Stanford and Oregon.

“It’s definitely not a super-confidence boost. We don’t think that we’re the best team in the country,” Bailey said. “We’ve got things to work on, but this is going to sit well with us. Our defense showed up today and our offense didn’t have its best game, but on its worst day still put up 30.”

The heat from USC fans has been directed as much, or more, at the coaches as the players. People wondered if Monte Kiffin’s schemes worked at the college level. There was grumbling about a lack of halftime adjustments.

But the coaches figured the best way to control Allen’s legs was to move Maynard's feet. They sacked him three times and flushed him most of the night.

“We had a great game plan and the guys played it well,” Orgeron said.

Of course, this team continues to scramble after the elusive complete game, something it hasn’t produced since the Cal game last season, when it took a 42-0 lead into halftime. Quarterback Matt Barkley couldn’t find his timing and receiver Robert Woods looked frustrated by constant attention from a safety.

Injuries became a worry, too, when receiver Marqise Lee sprained his shoulder and Marc Tyler dislocated his. Maybe this is the point of the season where the defense has to shoulder the burden, maybe grind out a couple of ugly wins. A year ago, that would have seemed like a laughable suggestion, but now it’s only a dubious one.

“We’re going to have our downs, but we’re going to have our ups as well,” Bailey said. “We’re not just going to lie down and give up a bunch of points each game.”

It’s a start.
Shelley Smith previews Thursday’s matchup between USC and California, interviews freshmen linebackers Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard, and discusses Marqise Lee in the latest edition of The Huddle.

Schedule of game for this week's Pac-10 Tournament at Staples Center:
Game 1 -- Wednesday: No. 8 Stanford vs. No. 9 Oregon State , 6 p.m. TV: FSN
Game 2 -- Wednesday: No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 10 Arizona State, 8:30 p.m. TV: FSN
Game 3 -- Thursday: No. 4 USC vs. No. 5 California, Noon TV: FSN
Game 4 -- Thursday: No. 1 Arizona vs. Game 1 winner, 2:30 p.m. TV: FSN
Game 5 -- Thursday No. 2 UCLA vs. Game 2 winner , 6 p.m. TV: FSN
Game 6 -- Thursday: No. 3 Washington vs. No. 6 Washington State, 8:30 p.m. TV: FSN
Game 7 -- Friday: Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 winner 6, p.m. TV: FSN
Game 8 -- Friday: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 winner , 8:30 p.m. TV: FSN
Final -- Saturday: Pac-10 Tournament Championship, 3 p.m.. TV: CBS
Larry Scott discusses the new divisions as the Pac-10 grows to the Pac-12.video

USC edged by Oregon in Pac-10 media poll

July, 29, 2010
7/29/10
12:18
PM PT
The defending Pac-10 champion Oregon Ducks beat USC by a narrow margin in the annual conference media poll released today, ending the Trojans' seven-year streak of earning the top spot every July.

USC earned 12 first-place votes from the 35 West Coast voters participating in the poll this time around, while the Ducks received 15. The margin between the two schools -- just three points (314 to 311) -- equals the second-closest poll ever after the 1989 edition, when the Trojans were picked to beat UCLA by two points.

Oregon State finished third in the voting, 49 points behind USC, and got three first-place votes. Four other Pac-10 squads received at least one first-place vote: Stanford, Arizona, Washington and UCLA.

The conference release notes that the poll has correctly selected the conference champion in 26 of 49 previous years, including nine of the last 10.

The full results, with first-place votes in parentheses:

1. Oregon (15): 314

2. USC (12): 311

3. Oregon State (3): 262

4. Stanford (1): 233

5. Arizona (2): 222

6. Washington (1): 209

7. California: 175

8. UCLA (1): 134

9. Arizona State: 81

10 Washington State: 39

How USC's opponents have fared in the NCAA tourney

March, 22, 2010
3/22/10
5:42
PM PT
USC knew it was out of contention for the NCAA tournament since early January, but that doesn't prevent a 'what if?' or two for Trojans fans when watching the NCAA tournament. A key place to look in those situations is the collective tournament resume of teams USC played this season, as the Trojans played nine games against tournament participants and went 6-3. Let's go through them chronologically.
  • Texas, December 3 — USC's first road game of the season didn't go so well, with Texas using big runs at the end of both halves to capture a 69-50 win. Forward Nikola Vucevic had a team-high 18 points and a game-high 14 rebounds before fouling out with five minutes left to play. With Mike Gerrity still ineligible, Donte Smith started the game and played 29 minutes at the point guard spot. Texas, ranked No. 2 at the time, got 13 points and seven blocks from Dexter Pittman and 19 points and nine rebounds from Damion James. Of course, the Longhorns memorably collapsed during the Big-12 season, eventually losing ten of their last 17 games — including an overtime loss to ninth-seeded Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAA tourney.
  • Georgia Tech, December 5 — USC coach Kevin O'Neill often referred to this game as the only contest all season in which the Trojans were truly overmatched. The host Yellow Jackets scored the first 19 points of the game before Alex Stepheson finally converted a layup with 13 minutes left in the first half and eventually went on to win, 79-53. All five of Georgia Tech's starters put up double figures in points; USC's Stepheson had a season-high 22 and Vucevic and Marcus Johnson added 12 points each. Georgia Tech earned a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tourney and upset seventh-seeded Oklahoma State in the first round before falling to Ohio State on Sunday.
  • Tennessee, December 19 — In Gerrity's first appearance on the season, USC played a tremendous all-around game and upset the then eighth-ranked Volunteers at the Galen Center, 77-55. Gerrity had 12 points and 10 assists in 39 minutes, consistently circling around a vaunted Volunteer defense. Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said afterward that he had little to no film of Gerrity prior to the game. The Trojans held Tennessee's Tyler Smith — since kicked off the team — to just three points and Wayne Chism and Bobby Maze to eight points each. USC's Johnson and Dwight Lewis combined to score 40 points on just 22 shots. The Volunteers are still alive in the NCAA tourney, beating San Diego State and Ohio to set up a Sweet 16 matchup with Ohio State.
  • St. Mary's, December 23 — In the second game of the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, USC surprised many by holding the Gaels to just 49 points and winning, 60-49. St. Mary's had just 16 made field goals while shooting 30 percent from the field against the Trojans but didn't score fewer than 61 points in another game all season. Leonard Washington made his season debut after being academically ineligible during the first semester. He scored 10 points; Gerrity had 17 and Vucevic added 15 while holding now-infamous Gaels center Omar Samhan to 13 points. St. Mary's is now perhaps the nation's biggest Cinderella after upsetting Richmond and Villanova over the weekend to punch its ticket to the Sweet 16.
  • UNLV, December 25 — On a five-game win streak, USC matched up with No. 20 UNLV in the title game of the Diamond Head Classic and handed the Runnin' Rebels just their second loss in 14 games, 67-56. Gerrity was named the tournament MVP after a 13-point performance, and Johnson and Lewis added 19 and 14 points, respectively. Only Oscar Bellfield was in double figures for the Rebels, with 17 points. "This tournament performance was not a fluke," I wrote at the time. "USC displayed defense and sheer athletic ability that will surely keep them in the top half of an admittedly weak Pac-10 conference this year regardless of offensive ups-and-downs." UNLV earned an 8-seed in the tournament after winning its final six games, but the Rebels lost in the first round to eventual Kansas-beater Northern Iowa.
  • Cal, January 9 — Following the announcement of self-imposed sanctions that left the Trojans without the possibility of posteason participation, USC held a seven-point lead with 10 minutes to go in Berkeley only to crumble under pressure and fall to the Bears, 67-59. Cal's Jerome Randle scored 21 and Theo Robertson added 20 as the Bears went on a 16-1 run down the stretch to take control of the game. Lewis had 20 points for the Trojans, who suffered their second consecutive loss after falling to Stanford on a free throw on January 7.
  • Washington, January 23 — This might have been USC's most complete performance of conference play, as the Trojans dominated the Huskies on both side of the ball and won, 87-61 at the Galen Center. USC had just experienced what O'Neill called a letdown against Washington State, when the Trojans held a 10-point lead at the break only to collapse in the second half and lose to the Cougars by seven, but they rebounded nicely. All five USC starters were in double figures against Washington, with Johnson leading the way with 22. Vucevic added 11 points and 13 rebounds. Washington's Quincy Pondexter had an off-night, shooting 1-of-10 from the field and scoring just two points, while reserve guard Venoy Overton led the Huskies with 18 points.
  • Cal, February 4 — USC learned its lesson from its first go-around with the Bears and used a remarkable 25-0 run to beat Cal at home, 66-63. Stepheson sparked the incredible sequence for the Trojans with a dynamic block of a Randle layup near the end of the first half, and Johnson added to the fire when he blocked the shot of 7-foot-3 Max Zhang. Randle had 29 points for the Bears, but the Trojans got at least six points from seven different players to overpower Cal. Vucevic had 10 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, and Lewis added 13 points. Eighth-seeded Cal went on to beat Louisville in the first round of the NCAA tourney after earning the Pac-10's only at-large bid, but the Bears lost by 15 to Duke on Sunday in the second round to end their season.
  • Washington, February 18 — In the Trojans' first true road victory of the season, USC topped the Huskies in Seattle, 67-64. Lewis led all scorers with 22 points as the Trojans opened up an eight-point halftime lead. Three other players were also in double figures for USC. Pondexter rebounded somewhat from his earlier performance against USC to post a 18-point, seven-rebound night. Washington earned an 11-seed in the NCAA tournament by virtue of an automatic bid after winning the Pac-10 tourney, and the Huskies have surprised many by upsetting Marquette and New Mexico to earn their way to the Sweet 16. Having won their last nine games, they're scheduled to play second-seeded West Virginia on Thursday.

Friday notes

February, 5, 2010
2/05/10
6:32
PM PT
A few notes on this Friday in Los Angeles:
  • One day after a nail-biting victory over Cal, USC was back at it again in practice Friday afternoon. Coach Kevin O'Neill took some time after the hour-long practice to revisit the win — including what went wrong. "What I thought we got last night that really helped us was a real flow sparked by our defense," O'Neill said. "We had a bunch of steals, a bunch of rebounds that got us going. We didn't have energy but we fought through and put ourselves in a position to win."
  • O'Neill said he had never seen a 25-0 run in his coaching career, but pointed out that USC started a December loss to Georgia Tech down 19-0. "Twenty-five's an incredible run, especially for a team like ours," O'Neill said. "It's more than we've scored in a lot of halves."
  • Cal coach Mike Montgomery last night, on how the Trojans managed to defeat his team: "USC is a physical team. USC gets after it. USC defends."
  • In football news, new USC head coach Lane Kiffin is hosting a coaches' clinic on April 9 and 10 at the Galen Center, the school announced today. Also involved in the clinic will be the rest of USC's coaching staff, including defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Final: USC 66, Cal 63

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
11:13
PM PT
In what was a hyper-tense game through and through, but USC prevailed over California on Thursday night at the Galen Center, 66-63.

The Trojans had trailed by 13 in the first half, only to go on a monster 25-0 run to take a 12-point lead, 42-30, with 16 minutes left. Cal would fight back and even take the lead, but USC used clutch shooting in the final minutes to bring home the victory in front of announced crowd of 7,412.

Said Cal coach Mike Montgomery afterward: "I don't remember a team going on a 25-0 run on us, ever."

USC (13-9, 5-5) is now only one game out of first place in the Pacific 10 Conference. On a two-game losing streak, Cal (14-8, 6-4) is still in a four-way tie for first with Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA.

Guard Dwight Lewis led USC with 13 points and point guard Mike Gerrity had 12 points and two assists. Cal's Jerome Randle scored a game-high 29 points and Patrick Christopher had 11.

USC post players Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic had a combined 20 points and 18 rebounds, and held the three members of Cal's frontcourt to 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Stepheson played only 20 minutes. He sat out much of the second half when USC coach Kevin O'Neill went with a different look.

"What we did was we went smaller," O'Neill said. "We sacrificed playing big.

"We had to do something."

Player of the game: Randle was undoubtedly the story from Cal's sideline. One of only two Bears in double figures, the 5-foot-10, 172-pound point guard put up shot after shot Thursday. And he made a lot of them, including six of 12 from three-point range.

This isn't the first time the senior has produced these kinds of numbers. He had 39 points against Washington State last month and has now scored 25 or more points 10 times in his college career.

USC guard Marcus Simmons, entrusted to defend Randle for much of the night, called him the "greatest guard I've ever guarded."

Randle stopped USC's second-half run with a big three-pointer and scored eight consecutive points at that point.

"Jerome just decided he didn't want to lose," Montgomery said. "He just started making plays."

Said O'Neill: "He's a tremendous player."

Play of the game: With USC down 57-56 with less than two minutes to go, Gerrity knocked down a crucial three-pointer to give the Trojans a 59-57 lead they would never relinquish. The next time down, Gerrity made another three — this time from a good four feet beyond the arc — to get the crowd roaring.

After the game, Gerrity said he couldn't celebrate the shots too much because Cal pushed the ball back immediately, but O'Neill did the praising for him.

"Gerrity's late threes were huge," O'Neill said. "He played like a senior point guard tonight."

Quote of the game: Randle was hot all night long but not hot enough to make his final shot from three-point range. With the Bears down 62-60 with 14 seconds left, the feisty point guard put up a flailing shot from near the out-of-bounds line in the corner. It hit the rim but nothing else. Did he think the shot had a chance?

"I asked him if he thought it was going in," Lewis said, smiling. "He said no."

Notes: Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson was in the USC locker room after the game. Lawson, who knows Stepheson from their days on North Carolina's team, is in town to play the Lakers on Friday night. ... Lewis became USC's all-time leader in games played at 125 with Thursday night's appearance. He entered the game tied with former Trojans point guard Brandon Granville.

USC up 50-44

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
9:26
PM PT
Talk about a change of momentum.

Down 30-17 in the first half, USC went on an amazing 25-0 run to turn the tables and take a 42-30 lead early in the second half.

Since then, Cal's Jerome Randle has managed to keep his team in the game, scoring 20 points. USC leads 50-44 with 7:03 to go.

Highlights of the mega-run included a Dwight Lewis corner three-pointer to start off the second half, and an eight-point sequence to cap it that went this way: Randle, a 93 percent free-throw shooter, missed both of his attempts at the line. USC's Mike Gerrity nailed a three on the Trojans' next possession, then delivered a pass to Marcus Johnson for a three-point play. Johnson then hit a smooth jumper the next time down the floor.

Lewis leads the Trojans with 13 points. USC forward Alex Stepheson, who started the half on the bench, has eight points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

Preview: Cal at USC

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
4:22
PM PT
Last time around, these two teams battled to the finish.

USC led by seven with 10 minutes to go, only to succumb to a late Cal run and fall, 67-59, at Berkeley.

This time, the Trojans don't expect things to be the same.

"Everybody makes adjustments the second time around," USC coach Kevin O'Neill said this week after a tough practice. "You get very well-scouted in conference basketball."

On that note, USC (12-9, 4-5) is even easier to scout than the typical team, considering O'Neill typically plays only seven players. The first-year USC coach has lamented his lack of depth many times this season, and he knows he's playing his starters too many minutes.

It showed last weekend, when the Trojans simply looked tired in losses at Oregon State and Oregon. Four of five starters played at least 34 minutes against the Ducks. In a prime example of near exhaustion, forward Marcus Johnson played 39 minutes but shot only two for 10 from the field for five points. He had no assists and turned the ball over four times.

Still, O'Neill is pleased with his team's overall effort.

"We're playing like we're trying to win games," O'Neill said. "Will we have any letdowns? Yes, but we can't really have them. Our margin for error is way too small."

The Trojans need a win — not a letdown, like the last time — tonight to stay competitive in the conference.

But a win for Cal (14-7, 6-3) would put the Bears in great Pac-10 position. They're currently tied for first in the Pac-10 with Arizona, who just ended Cal's three-game winning steak with an upset win Sunday.

Bears point guard Jerome Randle scored 21 points against USC in January, and forward Theo Robertson was strong on the boards and scored 20 points. Robertson had a career-high 27 against Arizona on Sunday.

USC managed to hold Cal guard Patrick Christopher to only six points — his lowest output in conference play — at Berkeley, but the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder is a crafty senior who can usually find a way to score.

Tip-off for this one is 7:30 p.m. We'll have frequent updates on the blog.

Notes: Stan Holt, the graduate student assistant who was fired by O'Neill last weekend, will return to the team tonight. The university announced this afternoon that Holt has been reinstated. Holt had been fired after receiving a technical foul during Saturday's game at Oregon. Said O'Neill in a statement: "Everyone deserves a second chance and I'm willing to give him that second chance. He's been a loyal Trojan and he only wants the best for our team. I think this can be a valuable lesson for him." Said Holt of the technical foul that came at a crucial point in a 67-57 loss to the Ducks: "My comments were out of place and my behavior did not help our team as we tried to win a close game on the road." Holt also said he "did not use profanity" in talking to the official.

Preview: USC at Cal

January, 9, 2010
1/09/10
7:53
PM PT
Two teams coming off devastating last-minute losses match up tonight in Berkeley.

Combined, USC and Cal lost by two points.

The Trojans (10-5, 2-1) fell, 54-53, on a free throw with 11 seconds remaining by Jarrett Mann after making a improbable final-minute comeback.

The Bears (9-5, 1-1) lost, 76-75, to UCLA on a Michael Roll jumper with three seconds left in overtime.

In what looks to be a close game, Cal will offer two prolific scorers in Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher.

Randle, a 5-foot-10, 172-pound point guard, averages 19 points a game and has a deadly 3-point shot. Christopher puts up more than 16 points a game.

USC's Dwight Lewis and Mike Gerrity will match up directly on Randle and Christopher, but USC coach Kevin O'Neill's favorite defensive stopper Marcus Simmons will surely step in at times.

But for the Trojans to win, the USC backcourt must outplay Cal's. Lewis had a terrific game (22 points, 9-of-15 shooting), but Gerrity was horrific. He had only three points and three assists.

Other things that need to happen for USC: either Alex Stepheson or Nikola Vucevic need to be a force down low against Cal's Markhuri Sanders-Frison. Realistically, both Stepheson and Vucevic can easily beat Sanders-Frison in different ways. Stepheson is more powerful and quicker than the Bear transfer; Vucevic is more much proficient from outside the key and should utilize the advantage.

Someone off the USC bench has to step up and score, because the Bears use theirs well. Simmons? Donte Smith? We'll see.

We'll have frequent updates on the blog throughout the game.

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