Cal senior Jerome Randle said it's time for him and his teammates to figure out what they want out of this season.
"There are high expectations for us this year and we're not living up to it at all," Randle said after the Golden Bears lost 66-63 at USC, falling into a four-way tie for first place in the Pac-10 Conference.
"I'm really disappointed in our team effort," he said. "We need to really dig down deep and do some self-evaluation checks and see if we really want this. The way we're playing right now, it don't look like we want it.
"We have to come together and try to figure something out before it slips away."
The Bears (14-8, 6-4) arrived at Arizona on Sunday alone in first place, poised to open a two-game lead of the rest of the league at the halfway point of the schedule.
Instead, they lost 76-72, allowing the Wildcats to pull even at the top. The loss to USC hoists UCLA and Arizona State into a four-way logjam with the Bears and Wildcats. And Washington and USC are just one game behind.
This race appears destined to remain open to all comers until the end. But Cal faces UCLA on Saturday in its fourth straight road game, and the Bears know it's time to step up.
The Bruins beat Cal 76-75 in overtime at Berkeley last month and have won four of five heading into Saturday.
USC 66, CAL 63:
The Bears charged out to a 30-17 lead and seemingly had control. But they allowed a 25-0 USC run that spanned both halves, going scoreless on 15 consecutive possessions.
By the time Cal scored again, USC had built a 40-30 lead.
"(We) get outscored 25-nothing. How do you do that?" Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "We had control. They made a substitution -- brought (Marcus) Simmons in on Jerome, which we thought they'd do -- and we just stopped.
"I'm amazed we had a chance, giving up a 25-zip run."
The Bears did have a chance, but Theo Robertson missed the first of two free throws with 10 seconds left, leaving the Bears down 62-61. They fouled Nikola Vucevic, who made both free throws, and USC quickly fouled Patrick Christopher with 3.6 seconds remaining.
He made the first and -- to the surprise of Cal's bench -- also converted the second.
"I was trying to make both," Christopher acknowledged. "I was trying to figure out whether I was going to make or miss the second one, and decided I'd just make it."
Montgomery called it a "miscommunication."
Vucevic made two more with 2.5 seconds left, icing the USC win.
--The loss at Arizona prevented Cal from pulling off its first road sweep of Arizona and Arizona State since those two schools joined the Pac-10 in 1978-79.
--Cal had three 20-point scorers -- Jamal Boykin (25), Jerome Randle (25) and Patrick Christopher (21) -- against Arizona State, the first time the team had done that since the 2006-07 season.
ON THE SPOT:
Jerome Randle delivered big against USC, but fellow seniors Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson combined to shoot 6-for-18 and scored only 19 points, nearly 12 below their combined average. The Bears know they are in a fight for their lives the rest of the Pac-10 season, and Christopher and Robertson need to deliver Saturday when Cal visits UCLA at Pauley Pavilion
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"Theo was feeling it tonight so we gave it to the guy that was hot, and unfortunately it didn't go our way." -- Senior Patrick Christopher on Theo Robertson, who scored a career-high 27 points at Arizona, but couldn't convert one final chance.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Injuries continue to stalk the Bears. They have been without would-be starting post player Harper Kamp (knee) all season. They played six games during their non-conference schedule without starting SF Theo Robertson (foot), and played five in a row without sixth-man Jorge Gutierrez (sprained knee). C Markhuri Sanders-Frison (back spasms) missed both games in Arizona, PG Jerome Randle has battled a bruised knee and F Omondi Amoke was sick against Arizona State and played just 10 minutes.
Usual Starters -- F Jamal Boykin, F Omondi Amoke, F Theo Robertson, G Patrick Christopher, G Jerome Randle. Key Subs -- C Markhuri Sanders-Frison, C Max Zhang, G Jorge Gutierrez, G D.J. Seeley.
Cal 65, Oregon State 61
Cal 78, Arizona State 70
Arizona 76, Cal 72
USC 66, Cal 63
at UCLA, Saturday, Feb. 6
vs. Washington, Thursday, Feb. 11
vs. Washington State, Saturday, Feb. 13
at Oregon State, Thursday Feb. 18
Cal will try to reverse perhaps its most disappointing outcome of the season when it visits UCLA. The Bears lost 76-75 in overtime to the Bruins at home last month in a game they seemingly controlled early in the second half. The Bears have dropped five straight to UCLA and have not won at Pauley Pavilion since the 2005-06 season.
--Senior G Jerome Randle scored 29 points, moving past Leonard Taylor (1985-89) into the No. 6 spot on Cal's career scoring list. Randle has 1,609 points, one more than Taylor scored.
--Senior G Patrick Christopher scored just 11 points -- five under his average -- and had only two in the final 28 1/2 minutes of the game. One of those was a free throw he probably should have missed intentionally with 8.9 seconds left and Cal trailing by two.
--Senior F Theo Robertson suffered his second straight poor Thursday night game. A week after going scoreless in a win at Arizona State, he went without a field goal until the final 2 1/2 minutes, finishing with eight points and five turnovers.