Pac-12 Conference play tips off on Wednesday in Berkeley, Calif., when Cal hosts Southern California in a matchup of teams seeking to end losing skids.
For USC (4-3), the early-season swoon is less pronounced than its conference counterpart’s slide. The Trojans opened last week’s Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas with an 82-76 win over BYU for their fourth straight victory after dropping a surprising season-opening decision to Florida Gulf Coast.
USC lost its next two to close out the Battle 4 Atlantis, however, falling to Tennessee 73-66 in overtime on Nov. 24 and 64-59 to Wisconsin in the third-place game the next day.
Cal (0-7) opens conference competition looking for a reboot of sorts. The Golden Bears went winless through the season’s opening stretch, which included losses to Southern University and Division I newcomer UC San Diego.
A pair of losses to TCU and Clemson at last week’s Emerald Coast Showcase in Florida have sent Cal into the league opener on a seven-game skid.
“We’re a wounded team right now,” Bears coach Mark Fox said in his postgame press conference following Cal’s 59-55 loss to Texas State on Nov. 21. “We’ve had a miserable start to the season.”
Offensive woes are hindering the Golden Bears, starting with turnovers. Cal is averaging a turnover on more than a quarter of its possessions, per KenPom.com metrics.
The USC backcourt duo of Boogie Ellis and Kobe Johnson each average more than a steal per game to fuel the Trojans’ defense.
“Boogie is a pleasure to coach,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said following USC’s Nov. 18 win over Mount St. Mary’s. “He plays so hard. He works out so hard. He practices hard. He just leads by example. You never have to question his effort. He’s improved as a lead guard.”
Ellis and Drew Peterson are pacing the Trojans offense at 18 and 15 points per game, respectively. Peterson has been an all-around playmaker for USC, also grabbing a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game and dishing a team-best 6.6 assists per game.
Devin Askew’s 16.7 points per game lead Cal, with Lars Thiemann adding 12.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.