Jerome Randle was wearing a big smile Tuesday, and it wasn't just because teammate Patrick Christopher was making faces at him from the back of the interview room.
The Cal men's basketball team (16-4, 5-2) wraps up the first half of the Pac-10 schedule this week in Los Angeles, facing UCLA (15-4, 5-2) on Thursday, then USC (13-5, 4-3) on Saturday.
"I know this is big for us," said Randle, whose team is part of a three-way tie for second place behind league leader Washington. "This is a turning point in this season and will determine what we do from here on out. If we go down there and take care of business, we're on the rise."
Randle, who said his bruised hip is gradually feeling better, will be matched against UCLA senior Darren Collison, who has helped direct the Bruins to three straight Final Fours.
"It's going to be great," Randle said. "I know they talk about him being the best point guard in the Pac. I'm looking forward to going up against him and just trying to lead my team to a 'W.'""
The Bears are trying not to dwell on last season's game at Pauley Pavilion, where the Bruins rallied from 11 points down, forced a late Cal turnover and claimed a controversial 81-80 victory after Josh Shipp made the game-winning shot from behind the backboard with 1.5 seconds left.
"We're ready to go in there and compete and play as hard as we can," Randle said. "That was definitely a terrible loss. We weren't really pleased with the decision that was made on that call."
Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said he didn't immediately recognize that the pregame ovation by Cal fans at Haas Pavilion last Thursday night was directed at him.
Robinson, brother-in-law of new President Barack Obama, said he assumed the applause meant Cal's team was coming onto the court.
"All of a sudden the clapping doesn't subside, and I don't see their team coming out, and I realized they're clapping for me," he said. "I got to tell you, I was completely taken by surprise. It was almost as emotional as being at the inauguration. That kind of outpouring, I'm not used to."
Robinson said he was impressed by the Cal student body and fans.
"To know why they're clapping, that they're so happy and hopeful with what's going on this country, that they pay tribute to me just with my affiliation, not only is it moving personally," he said, "but it makes me and my family happy that people think so highly of what President Obama has done and is doing and is going to do."
USC coach Tim Floyd said he's not sure if leading scorer Dwight Lewis (ankle) or freshman power forward Leonard Washington (ankle) will be ready to play this week. Lewis sat out both games in Washington last week, and Floyd said, "It just hasn't gotten better."
— Jeff Faraudo