It took nearly a month, but the Andy Enfield era at USC finally has a conference win to show for itself, and a rather surprising quality one at that. The Trojans, who lost their first five Pac-12 games by an average margin of over 22 points, took it to the previously-undefeated California Golden Bears, winning 77-69 Wednesday night at the Galen Center.
USC got out to a quick start, leading 16-8 early in the first half and they never looked back, leading wire-to-wire.
Freshman Nikola Jovanovic led the way for the Trojans, as the Serbian totaled a career-high 23 points. It was his best performance since December, as he had been averaging 4.8 points per game in Pac-12 play going into Wednesday.
For the Trojans, it came down to the fundamentals, as they were finally able to control a game with the combination of effective rebounding, points in the paint and the limiting of turnovers.
Of USC’s 77 points, 44 of which game in the paint, while the Bears were forced to shoot from outside all night long.
Point guard P.J. Howard, who has struggled with turnovers throughout his first season in Los Angeles, had one of his best performances of the season. The Maryland-transfer tallied a season-high 10 assists, while chipping in 12 points and six rebounds.
As for the Golden Bears, they struggled mightily, much to the benefit of the Trojans. Cal shot an uncharacteristic 39 percent from the field, weighted down by the struggles of guard Tyrone Wallace. The sophomore point guard was just 2-of-10 on field goals and never found a rhythm as a creator in Mike Montgomery’s offense.
Justin Cobbs was deadly as ever, scoring 22 points, but the Trojans were able to keep the Bears at bay by protecting the perimeter. Cal was 5-of-17 from three-point range, with the biggest hit from distance coming too late. Wallace’s lone three-pointer cut the Trojans’ lead to seven points with just 1:37 left in the game.
Next up for the Trojans is in-state rival Stanford on Sunday at the Galen Center. That game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network, tipping off at 2:00 p.m. Pacific.