By Rich Ruben
The loss to Oregon State puts more pressure on the Trojans in the Bay Area this week with games at Stanford on Thursday afternoon and at Cal on Saturday. Stanford provides the opportunity for a road win over a good opponent. Cal is in the bottom tier in the Pac 12 and the Trojans must win that game. The Trojan success in these games will likely depend on doing better in the five areas in which the Trojans have struggled in recent games and led to the loss in Corvallis: the need to get more shots for Evan Mobley and the other bigs, poor free throw shooting, too many turnovers, less success on the defensive end, and inconsistent outside shooting.
The Cardinal are 8-5 this season and 4-3 in conference play. They beat Oregon State 81-71 in Corvallis on January 4 and have a big season early win by 18 over an Alabama team which is playing very well and is contending for the SEC title. Stanford’s NET ranking is 60. The Cardinal has not been a good offensive team so far, ranking 184 in offensive efficiency compared to the Trojans 48. They are much better defensively, ranking 55 compared to USC at 21.
This game has more importance after the OSU loss. If the Cardinal beat the Trojans Thursday the two teams will be tied in the loss column and it will continue a stretch in which the Trojans’ play has withered.
Head coach Jared Hasse has done a very good job in rebuilding the Cardinal. He is recruiting at a much higher level than Stanford has seen in many years. He had a one and done point guard last year in Terrell Terry and has another one this year in forward Ziaire Williams. Hasse won the recruiting war over Andy Enfield in signing Williams. Expected to contend for the conference title, the Cardinal could still live up to expectations and get into the race in a big way if they can sweep the LA schools this week.
Stanford has made 45% of its shots but a very low 31% from three. They make 73% of their free throws.
One of the key players for Stanford, guard Daejon Davis, has had ankle injuries which have forced him to miss several games. Stanford has not announced whether he will play against the Trojans. Davis is a 6’3” senior and the Cardinal’s second leading scorer.
The leader of this Stanford team is Oscar da Silva. The 6’9” senior forward has averaged 19 points, 7 rebounds and 2.3 assists, though he also turns the ball over almost 3 times a game. He has raised his numbers across the board in PAC 12 play. On the season he has made 61% of his shots.
6’8” freshman forward Williams has had two triple doubles but he has been inconsistent on offense and lately has hesitated to take outside shots. He averages over 12 points, over 4 boards but almost 3 turnovers. Williams has made only 36% of his shots and 32% from beyond the arc; he is a solid 83% from the line. While Williams‘ shooting percentages are low he has caught fire in a few games this year.
Another freshman contributor is 6’9” forward Jaiden Dalaire. He has had his own injuries and his status for the Trojans hasn’t been disclosed. He averages 10 points and 5 rebounds, converting 55% of his shots, 27% from three and 80% from the line.
Junior Bryce Willis and sophomore Spencer Jones have taken more of the backcourt load with Davis out. Willis is 6’6” and averages 7 points, 4 boards, 2.5 assists and 2.3 turnovers. He is making 55% of his shots, but only 20% from three and 43% from the line. Jones is a 6’7” sophomore averaging 7 points and 4 boards. He makes 39% from the field, 31% from three and 60% from the line.
The Cardinal backcourt is big and athletic. For once the Trojans will often have the smaller guards on the court even with big guards Peterson, Baumann and White in the rotation. Ethan Anderson and Tahj Eaddy will often be the smallest players on the court. Stanford is a poor shooting team from outside and the Trojans can’t let them get hot. Stanford should have trouble inside against the big Trojan front line, though da Silva is a very tough matchup. He is experienced and very strong and will use his bulk against the Trojan bigs. USC can’t let him have a big game and has to close out the interior n defense against the rest of the Stanford team.
Cal has struggled this season; they are 7-8 overall and 2-6 in the conference and will host UCLA Thursday before the Trojans come to Berkeley. This is a game the Trojans absolutely must win. The Bears NET ranking before the Thursday game is 176. They have an offensive efficiency ranking of 157 and defensive efficiency of 258. They have made 45.6% of their shots, 33.6% from three and 66.4% from the line. Across the board the Bears struggle.
Cal believes they are on the right path and know their rebuild will take time. Head coach Mark Fox is in his second year after stints as the head man at Nevada and Georgia. His teams have averaged 20 wins over the last 15 seasons and he took teams to the NCAA Tournament three times at Nevada and twice at Georgia. The Bears were 14-18 last year, up from 8-23 the year before Fox arrived. They were 7-11 in conference games, a big improvement over the 4 wins the year before. Cal finished on a high note last year by upsetting Stanford in the first round of the Pac 12 Tournament before everything shut down.
Cal’s star player, Matt Bradley, has been battling injury and his status for this week’s games is up in the air. Bradley is a 6’4” junior guard and averages almost 18 points and 5 rebounds. He has made 45% of his shots, 32% from three and 77% from the line. If Bradley can’t go the Bears will struggle to score.
Two other guards are scoring in double figures but both are shooting under 40% from the floor. Ryan Betley is 6’5” and averages 10.7 points and 4 rebounds. He has made 38% of his shots overall and from three and makes 81% of his foul shots. 6’1” senior Makale Foreman averages 10 1/2 points and 2 assists. He has made 36% of his shots and his threes and 81% from the line.
The Bears do not have great size but their front court players are good shooters. 6’8” junior forward Andre Kelley averages over 10 points and 6 boards. He has shot the ball very well making 61% of his shots and 52% from three. 6’8” senior forward Grant Anticevich averages 9 points and 5 rebounds. He has made 45% of his shots, 33% from three and 82% from the line.
The Trojans will have a very big size advantage and should have a big offensive game against Cal. The Bears are an average offensive team with Bradley and will have more trouble scoring if he can’t play. USC needs a big win on Saturday for a lot of reasons, including to regain their swagger and confidence.
The Stanford game will be a struggle. If Davis can’t play it will help the Trojan cause. The Trojans’ confidence has to be at least a little shaken after not playing well over the last two weeks and losing to Oregon State. They need to contain da Silva and prevent Williams from getting hot. This game may be an indicator of the second half of the season. If the Trojans can correct some of their recent problems they can put their recent struggles behind them. Expect a close game; I’ll go with the Trojans, maybe because I’m a homer.
The Trojans should and need to beat a bad Cal team by a big margin. They can’t let the Bears keep the game close. Without Bradley the Bears should have no chance. Even if Bradley can play this needs to be and should be a big Trojan win.