The USC men’s basketball team will look to extend its best start to a season since the 2016-17 campaign when it welcomes California to Galen Center Thursday.
With already two Pac-12 wins over Washington State and crosstown rival UCLA, the Trojans are currently tied for third place in the conference standings. USC is now preparing for its fourth Pac-12 matchup and first conference home game against the Golden Bears.
So far this season, the Trojans have had the upper hand in almost every statistical category compared to the Bears. Cal is currently 8-8 but has been playing well as of late — most recently, it beat Washington in a 61-58 overtime thriller. Cal sophomore guard Matt Bradley banked a game-winning 3-pointer for the upset win.
That same Washington team took down the Trojans 72-40 in Seattle last Sunday — USC’s only loss in its last eight games. But as much as USC has been winning, Cal is starting to regain momentum of its own, coming off two impressive wins following a four game losing streak.
“[The Golden Bears] have won two big games at home and they are playing very well and they are very confident,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said. “Cal has a lot of talented offensive players … so we know with the way they’re playing now, they’re playing much better basketball.”
Since starting off 4-0, the Golden Bears have not quite seen that same level of success that they were hoping for. Yet, with players like Bradley and graduate guard Kareem South getting hot as of late, Cal is tied with USC in the Pac-12 with a conference record of 2-1.
If the Trojans hope to win their third conference game, they will have to contain Bradley, a key player for Cal all season long. Averaging 17.7 points a game, Bradley is also making more than 35% of his 3-pointers and is averaging 5.1 rebounds.
“[Bradley] is an elite scorer in our league and we have to have good on-the-ball defense with him, meaning we can’t give him wide open uncontested shots and we have to have a body on him for most of the game,” Enfield said.
As for the Trojans, look out for forward Nick Rakocevic, the senior captain who has been a staple for the Trojans the past three seasons and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Rakocevic had a huge bounce-back game in USC’s battle against UCLA. After shooting 2-14 from the field and scoring only 6 points against Washington, Rakocevic shot over 50% from the field and scored a team-high 17 points in USC’s win over the Bruins.
So far this season, Rakocevic is averaging 11.8 points and nine rebounds a game. His continued contributions should increase the Trojans’ chances at taking home a Pac-12 title.
Furthermore, an unsung hero for the Trojans has been freshman Ethan Anderson. Anderson, a 6-foot-1 guard from Los Angeles, has helped keep the defense strong for the Trojans all season long.
Anderson has had nine games with at least one steal and is averaging over five assists per game. Even though Anderson’s playtime averages under 23 minutes a game, he has made a considerable impact this season.
With an overall record of 13-3, USC is off to a strong start this year. Nonetheless, there are still 15 regular season games to go, all against Pac-12 teams.
“It’s important for us to come home and have the crowd get behind us and continue our momentum,” Enfield said. “We had a nice bounce-back game from our loss, I think we’ve won seven out of eight and so we’re proud of our players … This homestand is big for us.”
USC takes on Cal Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Galen Center.