LOS ANGELES -- Hypotheticals are not in the playbook for Cal coach Mike Montgomery, but he wouldn't be surprised to learn that by the end of the weekend there could be a five-way tie for first place in the Pac-12 standings.
In fact, by his thinking, it's not much of a reach.
"It's where you play, when you play 'em," Montgomery said after the Bears beat last-place USC 75-49 to move back into a tie for first place with Washington. "You play people on the road, it's hard to win."
The Golden Bears (19-6, 9-3) can disrupt that scenario by beating UCLA (14-10, 7-5) on Saturday afternoon at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
A victory would achieve a couple things beyond keeping Cal atop the conference standings:
The topic of the day for the Bears, though, is simply finding a way to knock off a UCLA team that resides in sixth place but has won four of its past five games. Cal beat the Bruins 85-69 in Berkeley on New Year's Eve.
"I'm sure they'll be much more prepared," said senior Harper Kamp, who needs one point and five rebounds to reach 1,000 and 500, respectively, for
The Bruins find themselves at the creaky Sports Arena while Pauley Pavilion undergoes a season-long renovation. Regardless, UCLA is 11-3 at home, 5-0 in conference games.
Only one road team needs to win Saturday or Sunday -- Colorado over 10th-place Arizona State -- to create a five-way tie for first place. Otherwise, a UCLA win over Cal, Oregon State win over Washington, Arizona win over Utah and Oregon win over Washington State would leave Cal, UW, Oregon, Arizona and Colorado all at 9-4.
At least one of those eventually will finish outside the top four, and would have to win on four consecutive days in the expanded Pac-12 tournament in order to secure the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Montgomery concedes the Bears probably don't have the depth to execute that run. UCLA coach Ben Howland has said his team has no other route to the NCAAs other than to win the conference tournament.
The Bruins, coming off a 72-61 win over Stanford, have made some adjustments since its trip to the Bay Area. Their biggest key remains the play of 6-foot-10, 305-pound sophomore center Joshua Smith, who began the season out of shape and struggling, but scored 43 points in two games in his home state of Washington a week ago.
"It's an encouraging sign for us," Howland said early in the week, before Smith had foul trouble and scored a quiet seven points against Stanford. "He's slowly getting into better condition, which I think is a big factor for him."