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February 9, 2012
Cal heads into Los Angeles for another crack at USC
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When Dewayne Dedmon left the floor on Jan. 26 in the first half of USC's 24-point loss to Colorado, it was thought that the seven-foot forward just had a sprained knee.
The true nature of the injury turned out to be much worse. Dedmon was deemed out for the season with a torn MCL. With that torn ligament, Dedmon became the fifth Trojan to go down with a season-ending injury this season, joining guard Jio Fontan and forwards Aaron Fuller, Evan Smith and Curtis Washington.
"I've been through difficult situations," said USC head coach Kevin O'Neill. "But I've never been through anything like this."
USC (6-18, 1-10 Pac-12) has floundered, to say the least, this season. The Trojans bring up the rear in the conference not only in the standings, but also in scoring (53.8 points per game), field goal percentage (39.7), free throw percentage (60.4), three-point percentage (28.4), three-point field goals (4.0 per game), rebounding (27.6 rpg), blocked shots (2.1 per game), rebounding margin (-6.9), assists (9.2) and defensive rebounds (18.6).
"They're still competing really hard. They're in a lot of games. They just can't sustain," said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery. "They're up at Washington, and they're giving them fits. They compete really hard, he's got them playing hard, he's doing a great job of utilizing what he has. He's kind of gone into a five-out deal now, which makes it difficult to defend. He doesn't play with a post guy, and they're pass-cut, pass-cut, so you've got all your big guys away from the basket, opens up the court and frankly, a couple of the guys early on who may not have been given an opportunity, all of the sudden, they're factors."
One player who has taken his opportunity and run with it has been 6-foot-6, 225-pound sophomore forward Garrett Jackson, who went 7-for-14 in 34 minutes in a 69-41 loss to the Huskies last time out. As a freshman, Jackson played in 33 games, averaging 3.2 points and 1.7 boards. This season, before conference play began, Jackson averaged just 13.8 minutes per game. Since Pac-12 play started, he's averaged 23.8 minutes, 3.3 rebounds and 8.0 points.
"The one post guy, he had I think 14 shots the other night, and the year before, he was playing a lot. Just through the process of elimination, he's back to playing quite a bit again," Montgomery said.
The last time Cal (18-6, 8-3) swept the regular-season series against USC was in the 2005-06 season. As downtrodden as the Trojans may seem, though, they still have weapons.
5-foot-7 sophomore guard Maurice Jones has seen his scoring dip in conference play (14.9 points in non-conference to 12.8 against the Pac-12), but he gave the Bears all they could handle in Berkeley, scoring 13 of his 17 points in the second half and hoisting up three late three-pointers in the waning minutes, reeling Cal back from a 16-point lead to 48-41 with 4:39 left in the game, and then another on the very next possession to make it 48-44 with 3:20 to play.
"He made three three's. They were tough shots, and he made them," Montgomery said. "There's no accounting. He's just a good player, and they were not scoring and somebody needed to do something, and he jumped up and it went in and all of the sudden, he got the feel a little bit."
Cal is currently second in the Pac-12, a game behind Washington, and ranks in the top three in the conference in scoring (72.1 ppg, third), scoring defense (60.4 ppg, second), scoring margin (+11.8, first), free-throw percentage (75.6, first), field goal percentage (47.9, first), field goal defense (40.8 percent, third), three-point percentage (39.0, first), rebounding defense (30.0, first), defensive rebound percentage (72.7 percent, first), assists (16.3, second) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4, first).
One of the main men responsible for those last two stats has been sophomore point guard Justin Cobbs, who ranks third in the league in dimes (4.5 apg) and second in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.3). Even with those numbers though, Cobbs has sometimes lost a bit of focus during the course of a game, as he did at the end of the Bears' 68-47 win against Arizona State last week, allowing an easy lay-up to 5-foot-9, 150-pound freshman Max Heller.
"I think I'm doing a better job, now," Cobbs said. "We're in conference now, so I feel like every moment should be cherished, and you can't go out there and lose focus at any time, because that moment can be the turning point of the game: a turnover, a defensive lapse. I'm doing a better job of taking every play for what it is, and going out there, making sure I'm helping the team in any way possible."
Cobbs, is making progress in that regard, and will likely be tasked with defending Jones.
"He's quick. He's 5-7, he's so fast and he exerts a lot of energy coming off screens, and he can shoot the ball well. He can get to the basket for his size, and finish above our big guys, so containing him and limiting him to as little as possible [is the plan]," Cobbs said. "It's hard to pressure him. With him being so quick, you don't want to have him just blow by you. I'm a little taller than him, so I have to gap him a little bit and contest all of his shots. Hopefully that works out for us."