On Sunday night, the USC Trojans (12-14, 7-6) played one of the best road games this season, storming out to a 15-point half-time lead over the red-hot California Golden Bears. The Trojans were on their way to winning five straight games, tying the Arizona State Sun Devils for 4th place in the tightly contested Pac-12 race, until reality set in, up in Berkeley.
In one of the most iconic moments of the season, Cal head coach Mike Montgomery shoved Pac-12 leading scorer Allen Crabbe, changing the momentum in the home team’s favor. USC was leading Cal 47-32 with just over 16 minutes to play in the basketball game, but boy were things about to unfold at Haas Pavilion.
Led by Crabee, the Bears cut the Trojans lead to seven with 6:43 to play. As things were running out of control, USC had one more trick up their sleeve to quick the rowdy crowd. Byron Wesley continued a strong shooting performance, draining a three-point shot giving USC a 10-point lead with 6:22 left.
During that time, the momentum was obviously shifting in Cal’s favor but the Trojans continued to hit clutch shots to give Cantu’s squad a sense of hope for what lied ahead. J.T. Terrell, Byron Wesley, and Jio Fontan carried the Trojans offense for most of the game, scoring 49 combined points, but all three could not handle the barrage of shots Cal fired in the final minutes.
From that point forward, the snowball rolled out of control, as Cal finished the game on a 25-7 run, demolishing the Trojans with clutch shooting down the stretch. Crabbe and Cobbs made a combined four straight deep shots giving Cal a lead they would never relinquish, 68-64.
For USC, what it really comes down to, is that the Trojans’ possessions were anything but solid down the stretch. Jio Fontan and Eric Wise could not convert their opportunities to seal the Trojans’ fifth-straight victory.
In the end, the eight-point loss makes matters look worse than they seem but the fact remains that the Trojans were in prime position to win, and could not find a scoring leader down the stretch.
Fontan committed two turnovers in the final five minutes as USC made no shots from the field in the final three and a half minutes. The possessions consisted mainly of slow passing across the perimeter resulting in contested shots and sluggish offense. It’s was an all-too familiar style of attack that propelled the Trojans struggles to begin the season.
The Trojans have pushed the pace well under head coach Bob Cantu, playing with a loose resolve on both ends of the floor. In the final five minutes against Cal however, the Trojans resorted back into a nervous, even hesitant club that was playing in fear of expectations. The Trojans blew a critical opportunity to climb in the standings, and solidify their place among the conference’s elite.
Close games have been nothing new to the Flying Cantus, who have played six of their eight games within an eight point margin. But at Cal was the first game that USC looked like the team on their heels, against the shooting exhibition the Bears were providing. Crabbe and Cobbs combined for 45 points on the night, showcasing their explosiveness on the biggest stage.
The Trojans were placed in uncharted territory as the team playing better basketball, but instead they resorted back to nasty habits that allowed Cal to overcome a double-digit deficit. USC must now prepare for a cross-town rematch that featured a similar double-digit lead surrendered against UCLA, a game in which the Trojans ultimately pulled out in overtime.