When you hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up. This is applicable to both Cal and USC, who are the bottom two teams in the Pac-12. When these two California squads clash, both will be trying to stave off the dubious honor of sitting dead last in the conference.
Although the Bears have lost their last two games by a total of 79 points, there is reason for optimism heading into their Monday afternoon matchup. The Trojans are currently 0-3 in conference matchups, so this is the best chance for a blue and gold victory in recent history.
Furthermore, the Bears will be looking to redeem themselves in this matchup, as they are on a two-game losing streak against the Trojans and have not beaten USC in nearly two years. The most recent contest was a close, eight-point victory for the Trojans.
Historically, though, the Bears don’t have too much trouble against the Trojans. They are currently 24-17 against their Southern California rival and have a modest 10-10 record on the road, which is where they will be playing this time around.
While this is a prime opportunity for the Bears to get their first win, the Trojans are still a team they should respect. USC has an array of dynamic scorers, with three players who are averaging double-digit points on the season, as well as two more players who are averaging more than nine points per game.
For a team to give itself a good chance at victory, it usually tries to neutralize the opposing team’s best player, but the Bears must look beyond USC’s best player.
Although Trojans’ lead guard, sophomore Endyia Rogers, is having an excellent season — she is the team’s leading scorer by a decent margin (4.9 ppg), leads the team in assists and is third on the team in rebounding — she is not the most efficient scorer who the Bears have faced. Rogers’ overall shooting percentage is just 37.8%, and her three-point percentage sits at an unthreatening 34.8%.
Meanwhile, USC’s second leading scorer, graduate forward Jordan Sanders, is a sharpshooter. She is shooting 50% from the field overall, hitting her three-pointers at a sizzling 66.7% from the field and 100% from the free-throw line. These numbers are not the result of small sample sizes either, as Sanders is 17-34 from the field and 8-12 from the three-point line, which is a legitimate indication of her shooting abilities.
Cal cannot afford to leave her open, as she has proven that she is a superb shooter. Obviously, the blue and gold must focus on Rogers as well, but solely focusing on Rogers could lead to a shooting clinic from Sanders.
USC is not a strong rebounding team, as it only averages 33.2 boards per game, while its opponents average 39.8 per game. The Bears are currently averaging that exact number (39.8), so they must look to capitalize on this advantage.
While scoring on second-chance opportunities will be crucial to winning, the Bears will likely be 0-7 if they keep up their season pace on turnovers against the Trojans. The blue and gold are averaging 24.3 turnovers per game, while only causing 12.2 per game. The Bears’ opponents average a monstrous 25.7 ppg off of turnovers, which is more than one-third of their total points (Cal’s opponents average 69.5 ppg).
USC is not the best defensive team in the nation, but it still averages a respectable 11.6 ppg off of turnovers, and its opponents usually only average 13.2 per game. Furthermore, the Trojans have faced off against three of the top six teams in the Pac-12, so they could very well exceed the amount of turnovers they cause per game against Cal if the Bears are careless with the ball.
Justin Kim covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].