LOS ANGELES -- The Cal basketball team understands its long-shot status for the NCAA tournament. The Golden Bears know that even a victory over USC in the Pac-10 tournament Thursday and another in the Friday semifinals might not get them a bid.

"But if we win that final," junior Harper Kamp said, "then there's nothing to talk about."

The fifth-seeded Bears (17-13) and No. 4 Trojans (18-13) meet at 12:10 p.m. at Staples Center in what promises to be a dynamite quarterfinal. Cal arrives having won four in a row, USC five of six. The teams split their two regular-season games.

"We're going to have to play our best to have a chance to win," USC coach Kevin O'Neill said.

Both teams could say the same thing, but several factors could benefit the Bears:

  • The game tips off just after noon, when Staples Center may have the echo of an empty barn. If this game were played in the evening session, the L.A. crowd might provide the Trojans a bigger advantage.

  • The Bears have Allen Crabbe this time. The Pac-10 Freshman of the Year played in Cal's 68-66 win at the Galen Center but was sidelined by a concussion and didn't play when USC squared things with a 78-75 victory at Berkeley.

    "He just stretches the defense so much more and makes it easier for those two big guys, who I think are very, very good," O'Neill said, alluding to Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison. "With (Crabbe), they're a really dangerous offense."

  • Cal is well rested. The depth-challenged Bears have played just one game over the past 12 days, and they were hardly pushed by Stanford during Saturday's 74-55 rout. Kamp said having a full week to prepare for the Cardinal gave him time to rest a sore back.

    Still, the Trojans exploited the Bears' zone defense in both meetings, shooting a combined 19 for 39 from 3-point range.

    Coach Mike Montgomery has used more man-to-man defense in recent games but was reluctant to do so against USC's matching 6-foot-10 posts Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson.

    The zone limited Vucevic, the All-Pac-10 junior, to six points in Cal's win in L.A., but Vucevic lit them up for 21 points and 10 rebounds in the rematch.

    At Staples Center
    Los Angeles
    First Round
    Wednesday
    Oregon State 69, Stanford 67
    Oregon 76, Arizona State 69
    Quarterfinals
    Today
    Cal vs. USC, 12:10 p.m.
    Arizona vs. Oregon State, 2:40 p.m.
    UCLA vs. Oregon, 6:10 p.m.
    Washington vs. Washington State, 8:40 p.m.
    Semifinals
    Friday
    USC-Cal winner vs. Arizona-Oregon State winner, 6:10 p.m.
    UCLA-Oregon winner vs. Washington-Washington State winner, 8:40 p.m.
    Championship
    Saturday, March 12
    Semifinal winners, 3:10 p.m.