Cal men’s basketball faced the toughest opponent in the conference this week as it tried to capitalize on the momentum from its first road win of the season. The Bears almost handed the Bruins their first conference loss but came up just short. Now, Cal hosts USC, another top team in the Pac-12, in hopes of achieving just its third conference win.
USC has won the last five matchups with Cal, and they haven’t been close either. On average, the Trojans have crushed the Bears by 20 points. This year, USC looks like the familiar insurmountable team, as it sits in third place at 5-2 in the Pac-12. The team was even on a six-game win streak before Oregon State upset it earlier this week.
The Trojans’ success this year is largely attributed to Evan Mobley, a consensus five-star recruit and projected top-three NBA draft pick who is averaging 15.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and three blocks per game in his freshman year.
Mobley is joined by guards Tahj Eaddy and Drew Peterson in double-digit scoring, but the offense isn’t even the best part of the team. USC holds opponents to the fewest shots, lowest shooting percentage and least points of any team in the conference. This will certainly be a challenge for Cal’s struggling offense, especially without its leading scorer.
Defeating the Trojans will be a tough task without star junior Matt Bradley, who has missed five consecutive games with an ankle injury. Bradley did not play five-on-five in practice as late as Wednesday and is described as “day-to-day” by coaching staff. He warmed up with the team prior to the UCLA game Thursday night but did not log any minutes.
“Obviously, whenever you have key players that are out, it’s an adjustment,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox. “We found a way, in the games that Matt has not played, to win. But hey, life is better with him, life is easier with him.”
The good news for the Bears is that senior Grant Anticevich is already making an impact after an emergency appendectomy earlier this season. Anticevich posted modest stat lines in limited minutes for a few games before playing a critical role in Cal’s only road win of the season last week at Utah. He followed that up with a monstrous effort in the team’s loss to UCLA, pouring in 21 points on 8-11 shooting.
“For him to finally look like Grant again, I felt like it lifted our entire team,” Fox said. “For the younger guys and everybody else, to see Grant kinda return to form, I just felt like it lifted a weight off everybody’s shoulders.”
Fellow big man Andre Kelly has also been stepping up in the absence of Bradley. Kelly has become a key piece of the offense, averaging 15 points in the first four games without Bradley.
“I’ve really been pleased with Andre,” Fox said. “When he’s in good shape, he’s really productive, and he’s been very consistent. He’s very confident and comfortable in how we’re playing offensively and where he can get his looks from.”
USC was scheduled to play Stanford this Thursday, but the game was postponed due to a “suspected COVID-19 related issue within the USC program.” It is unknown yet if this issue will affect the timing of the Cal game.
Trilok Reddy covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].