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March 7, 2008

USC survives Cal scare

The Trojan basketball team came into the weekend hanging on to a 1-game lead over Arizona State for the No. 4 spot in the Pac-10. To gain some momentum heading into the conference tournament USC desperately needed a victory over Cal, especially with their Pac-10 finale against No. 7 Stanford looming.

The first half didn't look pretty for the Men of Troy, with superstar O.J. Mayo scoring just 2 points on 1 of 7 shooting. Cal took advantage of USC's troubles, shooting a blistering 51.5 % from the field on their way to a 37-31 halftime lead.

Dwight Lewis scored the first five points for the Trojans, finishing with a team-high 8 in the first half. Davon Jefferson scored the next five for USC but had to sit down with two fouls at the 13:15 mark.

His replacement, Keith Wilkinson, kept the momentum going with 6 quick points of his own.

"The first half was a little lackadaisical and I got a couple of open shots and a couple of tip-ins to help out," Wilkinson said after the game.

Center Taj Gibson also did his part with 6 points and a couple of blocks by the break.

The Trojans went into halftime down 6, shooting 44% including 0-6 from the three point line. California was 17 of 33 from the field, a lofty 51.5%.

"At halftime Coach Floyd got on us because we were not getting up on people and we kind of backed off," Wilkinson said. "He just wanted us to get up and make them make tough shots. I think we turned up our defensive pressure in the second half."

A few minutes into the second half the momentum of the game began to shift in USC's favor. California cooled off from the field, shooting into the basket next to a very vocal Trojan student section.

Behind the shooting of Gibson and Lewis the Trojans began closing the gap and then quickly built a lead of their own. It was all the way up to an 11-point cushion with only three minutes remaining and the game seemed very much in hand.

You could even hear the rumblings of the dreaded "Nah Nah Nah Nah, Nah Nah Nah Nah, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye" song starting up in the student section. But the fun wouldn't last much longer.

The Golden Bears found their shooting touch once again while USC looked cold and stale after their tremendous run ended.

"The last two minutes we didn't take care of our foul shooting and we didn't take care of the ball," Gibson said about the team's collapse.

The Trojans still had a chance to put the game away but Mayo and Hackett each went 1-2 from the line, giving Cal a chance to tie or take the lead with just seconds remaining. Two free throws later California completed their improbable comeback, leaving the Trojans just over 4 seconds to make something happen.

Mayo's desperation three was off the mark and it would take five extra minutes to decide this one.

California not only had the momentum going into the extra period, but also had the Trojans shorthanded with Jefferson on the bench after fouling out.

In the extra period USC picked up where they left off in the middle of the 2nd half, building an 8-point lead and looking firmly in control.

But just like in the 2nd half, the Bears wouldn't give up and began hitting shots from distance, pulling within 2 in the final seconds of overtime.

This time Mayo iced it with two clutch free throws, giving USC the hard fought 93-89 victory.

"It was a pretty gutty win tonight," Coach Tim Floyd told the press. "We didn't come out as hard as I would have liked defensively.

"I was happy with the way we won. When you lose that kind of momentum going into an overtime period it is very easy to lay down."

Game notes:

  • Mayo shot just 6 of 17 but still led the team with 22 points in 43 minutes.
  • The Trojans out rebounded Cal 43-38. The 5th straight game USC has out rebounded an opponent.
  • Cal's Patrick Christopher shot 8 of 15 from the field, leading his team with 24 points in 44 minutes.
  • Three Bears fouled out while only Jefferson fouled out for USC.
  • Gibson, Lewis and Mayo each had over 20 points. Daniel Hackett was the lone starter not in double figures (8 points).
  • Final shooting percentage … USC 49.2% … Cal 43.4%.


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