Gerrity, Vucevic lead USC past Cal
LOS ANGELES – Even after scoring 25 consecutive points during an incredible midgame run, Southern California still needed two big 3-pointers and four bigger free throws in the final minutes to hold off California.
It’s been that kind of a season for USC – and it’s that kind of a quagmire atop the Pac-10, which can’t find a team willing to take charge of anything.
Mike Gerrity scored 12 points and hit two 3-pointers to put the Trojans ahead, and Nikola Vucevic made four free throws in the final 8.9 seconds of USC’s 66-63 victory Thursday night.
Dwight Lewis had 13 points for USC, which scored those 25 points while holding the Golden Bears scoreless during a 10:46 stretch spanning halftime, turning an early 13-point deficit into a 42-30 lead. The Trojans took charge by using a smaller lineup to slow down guard Jerome Randle, who scored 29 points despite Cal’s drought.
“Not even against a group of (media) in shorts do I think we could outscore someone 25-0,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “That small lineup really got us going. If we stayed big, we would have lost by 12 or 14 points.”
USC surrendered its 12-point lead in the second half, but came back on two clutch shots by Gerrity, followed by Vucevic’s cool at the line. Vucevic and Alex Stepheson scored 10 points apiece for the Trojans, who have won six of their last seven home meetings with Cal.
USC had lost five of seven before rallying in the second half against the Bears, who had won five of their last seven.
“I’m not proud of the way we started,” O’Neill said. “We were lethargic, but we fought as hard as any group I’ve had has fought for a long time.”
The Bears wasted a chance to take control of the Pac-10 race with back-to-back losses to Arizona and USC – but thanks to Arizona’s loss to Washington, Cal (14-8, 6-4 Pac-10) remains in a four-way tie for first place, while the Trojans (13-9, 5-5) are just one game back.
Randle hit six 3-pointers – including a dramatic go-ahead shot from three steps behind the line – while rallying the Bears. But the 94-percent free-throw shooter missed two straight from the line for what he thought was the first time in his life during the Trojans’ 25-0 rally.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Randle ended the drought, yet his teammates went more than 17 minutes between points until Jorge Gutierrez’s layup with 11:28 to play.
“I’m really disappointed in our team effort,” Randle said. “We need to dig down deep and see if we really want this, because the way we’re playing right now, it doesn’t look like we do. … We just got a little bit complacent. The crowd got into it, and we were taking bad shots.”
That scoring drought resulted in Cal’s lowest-scoring performance of the season, with the Bears missing 27 of their final 38 shots after the game’s first 13 minutes. A popular preseason pick to win the conference, they’re growing frustrated with their inability to produce full-game efforts.
“How do you do that?” Cal coach Mike Montgomery asked. “I’m amazed we had a chance, giving up a 25-zip run and still having a chance. We got stuck on what we do offensively, and let it affect our defense. … The notion that we’re appreciably better than anybody (in the Pac-10) is just not the case.”
Patrick Christopher scored 10 points for Cal, which made too many mistakes even after rallying to take a late lead. After Theo Robertson scored five key points in the final minutes, he went to the line with Cal trailing 62-60 with 10 seconds left – and he missed the first of two free throws, allowing Vucevic to keep the Trojans ahead. Randle’s half-court shot ricocheted off the backboard at the buzzer.
“We tend to think we can shoot our way out of anything, but we didn’t do it,” Robertson said. “It was there for us, just like many other times. We just didn’t get it. We had another missed opportunity, but UCLA’s not going to feel sorry for us (on Saturday).”
Cal scored 10 straight points capped by two 3-pointers by Randle to take a 30-17 lead late in the first half. USC scored the next 10 points while holding the Bears scoreless for the final 6:48 of the first half, cutting Cal’s lead to 30-27 on Lewis’ layup 6 seconds before halftime.
Lewis played in his 125th game with the Trojans, passing Brandon Granville to set a school record.
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