LOS ANGELES — Theo Robertson paused for a moment before answering the question Thursday night after the Cal basketball team was taken apart 81-66 by 17th-ranked UCLA at Pauley Pavilion.

Are you surprised by what happened here?

"A little bit," Robertson said, "but they're a great team and they're at home."

And Cal is neither.

As the Golden Bears (16-5, 5-3 in Pac-10) prepare to face USC (14-6, 5-3) tonight at the Galen Center, the UCLA game serves as a reminder that Cal remains a work in progress, an imperfect team with limits.

Cal has three splendid perimeter shooters and leads the nation in 3-point accuracy at 47.6 percent. Robertson is converting a startling 56.9 percent and has moved to the top of Cal's career chart.

That shooting prowess, at times, has allowed the Bears to effectively mask their shortcomings, including scoring inside and defending the paint. But those can be exposed by an elite-level opponent with time to assemble a scouting report.

"Good teams aren't going to let you do what you want to do," coach Mike Montgomery said Friday after practice. "They're going to force us to use the low post, so we have play our best defense possible and we have to play fundamentally sound basketball.

"The fact of the matter is, if we don't shoot the ball, there's not a whole lot else we can do."

UCLA, perhaps not the juggernaut that advanced to the Final Four the past three seasons, still plays mean, aggressive defense. On Thursday night, the Bruins imposed that will on the Bears, and the result was a season-high 21 turnovers that fueled easy UCLA baskets.


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"I just don't think we were aggressive," junior Patrick Christopher said. "Maybe some guys played a little intimidated — that's what it seemed like. They had us on our heels and took advantage of it."

No one was immune Thursday. Point guard Jerome Randle and wings Robertson and Christopher — the team's top three scorers — totaled three baskets and 10 turnovers in the first half.

"I'm not going to put somebody in at the point who's better than Jerome. I'm not going to put somebody in at the wings who's better than the two guys who are playing out there," Montgomery said. "If we can't catch the ball, if we can't execute, then we're going to struggle."

The Bears maintain a solid No. 39 spot in the RPI computer rankings, but after tonight's game at USC they will play their final nine regular-season games against teams that have seen their warts.

Do the Bears remain a decent bet to make the NCAA Tournament? Absolutely.

Are they a lock? No way.

Five wins in their final 10 conference games would make them 21-10 overall, 10-8 in the league and part of the NCAA discussion headed into the Pac-10 tournament.

Right now, the Bears have lost three of four.

"We've just got to worry about our next game," Robertson said of tonight's matchup at USC. "We definitely don't want to make it four out of five."

Contact Jeff Faraudo at jeffscribe@aol.com.

CAL REPORT
Today's game:
at USC
  • TIPOFF: 8:30 p.m., Galen Center, Los Angeles
  • TV/RADIO: CSNCA; 1550-AM
  • RECORDS: Cal 16-5, 5-3 Pac-10; USC 14-6, 5-3