Cal rallies to beat USC
LOS ANGELES – After losing three Pac-10 road games by a combined eight points, California finally won a close one.
Harper Kamp scored 19 points, including 10 of California’s final 18, and the Golden Bears rallied to hold off Southern California 68-66 Saturday night to snap a two-game skid.
“That’s big for us to be able to execute down the stretch,” Kamp said. “That’s what we’ve worked on and we have to be able to close games out.”
Jio Fontan’s 3-point attempt for the Trojans bounced off the front of the rim with a second left.
“I figured I had to get up the best-looking shot I could,” he said. “It felt good. It looked like it was going in. Unfortunately, it bounced out.”
Mark Sanders-Frison grabbed an offensive rebound and scored, tying the game at 54 with 6:06 to play. From there, the Bears outscored the Trojans 16-12 to close out just their second win in five league road games this season.
“It comes down to what we preach all the time – if you don’t play defense, you can’t win,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said.
Sanders-Frison added 12 points before fouling out, and Brandon Smith had 12 for the Bears (10-9, 3-4), who had a season-low eight turnovers.
“That’s huge, because if you can limit the turnovers and them running out on the break and scoring from those turnovers, it limits what they can do,” Smith said. “USC isn’t a very high-scoring team, so I think that helped us a lot.”
Donte Smith scored a career-high 24 points, including a career-best eight 3-pointers, for the Trojans (11-9, 3-4), whose 11 3s were a season-high.
“Our team identity is defense, and we didn’t get that done in the second half,” Donte Smith said.
USC’s leading scorer, Nikola Vucevic, was held to six points and 10 rebounds against Cal’s zone before fouling out with 1:18 to play.
“I know it might have messed with their rhythm and tempo a bit,” Kamp said.” I know sometimes it can be difficult to know how to play against the zone. It can be tough when guys are kind of surrounding you. That may have thrown them off a little bit.”
O’Neill said Vucevic got hit in the jaw in the first half.
“He bit through his tongue and never got involved in the game at all,” O’Neill said. “He was bleeding in the nose and mouth. You have to learn how to play through every situation if you want to be able to do this for a living.”
Fontan was called for an intentional foul on Kamp with 3:06 left and the Trojans down by one.
“They didn’t say much to me,” Fontan said about the referees. “I fouled the kid and I helped him up. I was a little shocked about it.”
Kamp made both free throws, and the Bears retained possession, leading to a jumper by Sanders-Frison that made it 62-57.
“It was huge,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “I thought it was an aggressive intentional foul in trying not to let him score.”
Garrett Jackson hit a 3-pointer to draw USC within three with 34 seconds to go. After a timeout, the Trojans fouled Brandon Smith, who missed both free throws.
At the other end, Jackson grabbed the defensive rebound and fed Alex Stepheson, who got fouled and missed the first before making the second free throw, leaving the Trojans trailing 66-64 with 23 seconds left.
They were forced to foul Kamp, who made one of two free throws before Fontan’s layup got the Trojans within one. Allen Crabbe made one of two free throws for the Bears before Fontan took USC’s final shot from long-range, where the Trojans had excelled for much of the second half.
“It’s just tough to lose one like that,” O’Neill said.
The Trojans rallied from an 11-point deficit in the second half on Donte Smith’s torrid long-range shooting. He hit four straight 3s in the key stretch.
Both teams struggled with poor shooting in the first half. The Trojans, who shot 29 percent, led 18-11 before Cal closed the half on a 19-4 run to lead 30-22 at the break. The Bears shot 37 percent after starting out 4 for 19. USC’s points were its second-lowest in a half this season.