USC: Theo Robertson

Final: USC 66, Cal 63

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
11:13
PM PT
In what was a hyper-tense game through and through, but USC prevailed over California on Thursday night at the Galen Center, 66-63.

The Trojans had trailed by 13 in the first half, only to go on a monster 25-0 run to take a 12-point lead, 42-30, with 16 minutes left. Cal would fight back and even take the lead, but USC used clutch shooting in the final minutes to bring home the victory in front of announced crowd of 7,412.

Said Cal coach Mike Montgomery afterward: "I don't remember a team going on a 25-0 run on us, ever."

USC (13-9, 5-5) is now only one game out of first place in the Pacific 10 Conference. On a two-game losing streak, Cal (14-8, 6-4) is still in a four-way tie for first with Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA.

Guard Dwight Lewis led USC with 13 points and point guard Mike Gerrity had 12 points and two assists. Cal's Jerome Randle scored a game-high 29 points and Patrick Christopher had 11.

USC post players Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic had a combined 20 points and 18 rebounds, and held the three members of Cal's frontcourt to 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Stepheson played only 20 minutes. He sat out much of the second half when USC coach Kevin O'Neill went with a different look.

"What we did was we went smaller," O'Neill said. "We sacrificed playing big.

"We had to do something."

Player of the game: Randle was undoubtedly the story from Cal's sideline. One of only two Bears in double figures, the 5-foot-10, 172-pound point guard put up shot after shot Thursday. And he made a lot of them, including six of 12 from three-point range.

This isn't the first time the senior has produced these kinds of numbers. He had 39 points against Washington State last month and has now scored 25 or more points 10 times in his college career.

USC guard Marcus Simmons, entrusted to defend Randle for much of the night, called him the "greatest guard I've ever guarded."

Randle stopped USC's second-half run with a big three-pointer and scored eight consecutive points at that point.

"Jerome just decided he didn't want to lose," Montgomery said. "He just started making plays."

Said O'Neill: "He's a tremendous player."

Play of the game: With USC down 57-56 with less than two minutes to go, Gerrity knocked down a crucial three-pointer to give the Trojans a 59-57 lead they would never relinquish. The next time down, Gerrity made another three — this time from a good four feet beyond the arc — to get the crowd roaring.

After the game, Gerrity said he couldn't celebrate the shots too much because Cal pushed the ball back immediately, but O'Neill did the praising for him.

"Gerrity's late threes were huge," O'Neill said. "He played like a senior point guard tonight."

Quote of the game: Randle was hot all night long but not hot enough to make his final shot from three-point range. With the Bears down 62-60 with 14 seconds left, the feisty point guard put up a flailing shot from near the out-of-bounds line in the corner. It hit the rim but nothing else. Did he think the shot had a chance?

"I asked him if he thought it was going in," Lewis said, smiling. "He said no."

Notes: Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson was in the USC locker room after the game. Lawson, who knows Stepheson from their days on North Carolina's team, is in town to play the Lakers on Friday night. ... Lewis became USC's all-time leader in games played at 125 with Thursday night's appearance. He entered the game tied with former Trojans point guard Brandon Granville.

Preview: Cal at USC

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
4:22
PM PT
Last time around, these two teams battled to the finish.

USC led by seven with 10 minutes to go, only to succumb to a late Cal run and fall, 67-59, at Berkeley.

This time, the Trojans don't expect things to be the same.

"Everybody makes adjustments the second time around," USC coach Kevin O'Neill said this week after a tough practice. "You get very well-scouted in conference basketball."

On that note, USC (12-9, 4-5) is even easier to scout than the typical team, considering O'Neill typically plays only seven players. The first-year USC coach has lamented his lack of depth many times this season, and he knows he's playing his starters too many minutes.

It showed last weekend, when the Trojans simply looked tired in losses at Oregon State and Oregon. Four of five starters played at least 34 minutes against the Ducks. In a prime example of near exhaustion, forward Marcus Johnson played 39 minutes but shot only two for 10 from the field for five points. He had no assists and turned the ball over four times.

Still, O'Neill is pleased with his team's overall effort.

"We're playing like we're trying to win games," O'Neill said. "Will we have any letdowns? Yes, but we can't really have them. Our margin for error is way too small."

The Trojans need a win — not a letdown, like the last time — tonight to stay competitive in the conference.

But a win for Cal (14-7, 6-3) would put the Bears in great Pac-10 position. They're currently tied for first in the Pac-10 with Arizona, who just ended Cal's three-game winning steak with an upset win Sunday.

Bears point guard Jerome Randle scored 21 points against USC in January, and forward Theo Robertson was strong on the boards and scored 20 points. Robertson had a career-high 27 against Arizona on Sunday.

USC managed to hold Cal guard Patrick Christopher to only six points — his lowest output in conference play — at Berkeley, but the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder is a crafty senior who can usually find a way to score.

Tip-off for this one is 7:30 p.m. We'll have frequent updates on the blog.

Notes: Stan Holt, the graduate student assistant who was fired by O'Neill last weekend, will return to the team tonight. The university announced this afternoon that Holt has been reinstated. Holt had been fired after receiving a technical foul during Saturday's game at Oregon. Said O'Neill in a statement: "Everyone deserves a second chance and I'm willing to give him that second chance. He's been a loyal Trojan and he only wants the best for our team. I think this can be a valuable lesson for him." Said Holt of the technical foul that came at a crucial point in a 67-57 loss to the Ducks: "My comments were out of place and my behavior did not help our team as we tried to win a close game on the road." Holt also said he "did not use profanity" in talking to the official.

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