-- BREAKING IT DOWN --
Key moment(s): Blocked from behind. On Thursday night, freshman reserve Chass Bryan had what Jio Fontan labeled the biggest play of the game when he tipped away a Stanford pass and took it the distance for a layup. Late in the game Saturday, it seemed he had created another big steal and layup, but instead he was denied by Cal guard Justin Cobbs, who came flying from behind him to pin the layup attempt on the backboard.
After completing a nice drive and left-handed finish off the glass to cut Cal's lead to 57-56 with 4:56 to go, Bryan had a rough two and a half minute stretch. On Cal's subsequent possession, Bryan's man, Tyrone Wallace, sank a clutch 3-pointer when Bryan backed too far off. Bryan then missed an open 3-pointer, got blocked by Cobbs and missed another wide open 3-pointer the next three times USC had the ball. Omar Oraby was called for a foul trying to rebound Bryan's final miss and by the time Cal made one of two free throws, the Golden Bears' lead had ballooned to an insurmountable seven points with 2:32 to go.
Player of the game: Allen Crabbe. Entering the game, USC head coach Kevin O'Neill thought the Trojans could win if they limited the Pac-12's leading scorer, Allen Crabbe,to 12 or 13 shots. USC did that. However, O'Neill wasn't anticipating Crabbe shooting 75 percent from the floor and getting another eight points at the free throw line, where he did not miss a shot. Matched up against Byron Wesley, Crabbe did it in a variety of ways, whether it was open jumpers coming off screens or sharp cuts to the basket. He also facilitated well, dishing out a team-high four assists while adding three rebounds, a block and a steal.
Most Spectacular Play: Oraby cleans up the mess. When USC gets out in the open court, good things tend to happen, even if it's just a quick transition after a made basket. Following a Richard Solomon bucket, USC pushed the ball. Renaldo Woolridge, playing for the first time in two weeks, got the ball on the wing with a clear path to the basket after Omar Oraby screened a pair of Cal defenders, who got lost in the shuffle of the quick offensive-to-defensive transition.
With a clear path to the basket, Woolridge took two dribbles and cocked the ball back to slam it down with authority. Cal post player Robert Thurman made a tremendous play coming across from the weak side to get his hand on the ball, blocking Woolridge's dunk attempt. But the ball hit off the backboard and came straight to Oraby, who had rolled to the basket to follow Woolridge's attempt. Oraby corralled the ball and threw it down for an uncontested two-hand slam.
Unsung Hero: Dewayne Dedmon. The lanky 7-footer has now scored 10 points or more 11 times in his career. He has grabbed double-digit rebounds in six career games. But Saturday was the first time he's done both in the same game. Dedmon scored 10 points on 5-of-11 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds, five coming on the offensive end. He also swatted four shots to retake the team lead in blocks. Dedmon's offensive game continues to improve as he gains more experience and he learns more and more what he is capable of doing.
"Step It Up:" It's a free throw...it's free. They are called free throws because they are supposed to be easy points. No one guarding you. A nice, simple set shot from 15 feet. It should be nothing more than flick of the wrist and a free point. But there was nothing simple or easy about USC's free throw shooting on Saturday. The Trojans were an atrocious 8 for 18 from the charity stripe "led" by Aaron Fuller's 1-of-4 and Omar Oraby's 1-of-3.
Key stat: 40.9%, 18.2%, 44.3%. O'Neill said it all: "When you shoot 40 percent from the field, 18 percent from three and 44 percent on free throws, you deserve to lose." USC only turned the ball over seven times and scored 36 points in the paint thanks, in part, to getting 13 offensive rebounds, but if you can't knock down open looks, it's going to be very tough to win.
"At this level, you have to make shots, and we're not making them."
Quote of the Night: Cal head coach Mike Montgomery on USC:
"USC is a decent ball club. I don't think they are a 10th or 12th place team like some might. They really gave us a hard time tonight."
Sideline Strategy: In the latest edition of "As the KO Rotation Turns," there was a Renaldo Woolridge sighting, but no sign of Wake Forest transfers JT Terrell and Ari Stewart. Instead, Bryan got 18 minutes, including the majority of the stretch run as O'Neill went with a smaller lineup once again. Fellow freshman Brendyn Taylor also saw significant time, playing 11 minutes.
Aaron Fuller got the start for the fourth consecutive game, but he played only eight minutes in the second half. With Fuller starting, 7-foot-1 sub James Blasczyk has lost more and more minutes, including his third DNP on Saturday.
Where They Stand: USC is now 1-1 in conference. A split with the Bay Area teams isn't terrible, but as Dewayne Dedmon said, "You want to start out conference play with two wins. You want to protect your home court."
Instead of starting out at the top of the Pac(k) with Arizona and UCLA at 2-0 and potentially showing that its non-conference schedule was just a tough schedule and not an overall representation of the Trojans, USC falls back into the middle of the conference standings.
USC travels to Colorado on Thursday, January 10 to take on a strong Buffaloes' squad that should have defeated No. 3 Arizona Thursday on a buzzer beater, but the basket was waved off by the officials. The Trojans then head to Utah on Saturday before returning home to face Oregon on January 17.