Preview: Cal at USC

Last time around, these two teams battled to the finish.

USC led by seven with 10 minutes to go, only to succumb to a late Cal run and fall, 67-59, at Berkeley.

This time, the Trojans don't expect things to be the same.

"Everybody makes adjustments the second time around," USC coach Kevin O'Neill said this week after a tough practice. "You get very well-scouted in conference basketball."

On that note, USC (12-9, 4-5) is even easier to scout than the typical team, considering O'Neill typically plays only seven players. The first-year USC coach has lamented his lack of depth many times this season, and he knows he's playing his starters too many minutes.

It showed last weekend, when the Trojans simply looked tired in losses at Oregon State and Oregon. Four of five starters played at least 34 minutes against the Ducks. In a prime example of near exhaustion, forward Marcus Johnson played 39 minutes but shot only two for 10 from the field for five points. He had no assists and turned the ball over four times.

Still, O'Neill is pleased with his team's overall effort.

"We're playing like we're trying to win games," O'Neill said. "Will we have any letdowns? Yes, but we can't really have them. Our margin for error is way too small."

The Trojans need a win — not a letdown, like the last time — tonight to stay competitive in the conference.

But a win for Cal (14-7, 6-3) would put the Bears in great Pac-10 position. They're currently tied for first in the Pac-10 with Arizona, who just ended Cal's three-game winning steak with an upset win Sunday.

Bears point guard Jerome Randle scored 21 points against USC in January, and forward Theo Robertson was strong on the boards and scored 20 points. Robertson had a career-high 27 against Arizona on Sunday.

USC managed to hold Cal guard Patrick Christopher to only six points — his lowest output in conference play — at Berkeley, but the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder is a crafty senior who can usually find a way to score.

Tip-off for this one is 7:30 p.m. We'll have frequent updates on the blog.

Notes: Stan Holt, the graduate student assistant who was fired by O'Neill last weekend, will return to the team tonight. The university announced this afternoon that Holt has been reinstated. Holt had been fired after receiving a technical foul during Saturday's game at Oregon. Said O'Neill in a statement: "Everyone deserves a second chance and I'm willing to give him that second chance. He's been a loyal Trojan and he only wants the best for our team. I think this can be a valuable lesson for him." Said Holt of the technical foul that came at a crucial point in a 67-57 loss to the Ducks: "My comments were out of place and my behavior did not help our team as we tried to win a close game on the road." Holt also said he "did not use profanity" in talking to the official.