In a game of runs, the Trojans tripped during the final sprint.
After outplaying Cal nearly the entire game, USC blew a 10 point lead in the final six minutes, losing 76-68 to the Golden Bears in Berkeley after being outscored 25-7 to finish the game. The Trojans actually held a 15-point lead in the second half, but could only muster two field goals after taking a 10 point lead with 5:52 left.
“I think we played really well to that point,” said USC interim head coach Bob Cantu. “At the end, we weren’t able to get stops and we had some key turnovers that led to some run-outs for them.”
Junior shooting guard J.T. Terrell led the Trojans with 17 points, while sophomore guard Byron Wesley had 16 points, including a season-high four 3-point shots on six attempts. Senior point guard Jio Fontan also had 16 points to go along with five assists.
After the Trojans took their 61-51 lead with just under six minutes to go, Cal went on an 11-0 run over the next 2:40. The run was Cal’s third run of at least nine straight points, and was fueled by a 3-pointer each from leading guards Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs, who combined for 45 points.
Down 62-61, the Trojans resolutely ended the run on the next possession with a spot-on 3-pointer from Fontan to go back up 64-62 with 3:25 to go. Instead of the momentum turning back to USC, though, the Golden Bears went on another run, this time a 10-0 sprint to give them a 72-64 advantage with 34 seconds left.
The sides traded points for the next four possessions, but after Fontan missed a 3-pointer with USC down 76-68 with 16 seconds left, the Trojan comeback effort was officially finished.
Finishing with a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds, Crabbe found his stroke late and outscored USC himself, 10-7, to finish the game.
“He made big shot after big shot,” Cantu said on Crabbe. “He played tremendously and those shots were able to catapult [Cal] over the hump late.”
The agonizing part of the loss for USC was that the Trojans had the game in hand for the first 34 minutes.
After Cal found a jumper for a quick two on their first possession, USC reeled off a 9-0 run, capitalized by a signature Terrell 3-pointer. The Trojans then missed their next eight shots and Cal had a 13-0 stretch to retake the lead at 15-9 with 11:15 to go in the half.
The scoring streaks weren’t done yet though. USC had a 12-0 run in them this time, capped off by junior forward Dewayne Dedmon nailing an off-balance jumper while being fouled; he made a free throw for the three-point play. USC led 21-15 at this point, and the sides traded baskets for the rest of the half as USC entered the break leading 32-28. Cal had nine turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, and USC had 16 points off of those Golden Bear miscues.
Just like the first half, Cal scored with a jumper on the first possession of the second half. And, just like the first half, USC went on another run. This time, the Trojans made their first six shots of the half for a 15-2 spurt that gave them a 47-32 with 16:01 left in the game.
Cal pulled off a 9-0 stretch of their own to cut it back to 10 as the Trojans kept turning the ball over. But USC was still hot from the floor, and shot 58 percent through the first 14 minutes of the second half. Unfortunately, the last six minutes were the ones that mattered most.
In earning the weekend split, one of USC’s bright spots was the stellar play of Dedmon, who logged a season-high 32 minutes on Sunday, while junior center Omar Oraby played only four. Oraby totaled just seven minutes against Cal and Stanford, in part because of Dedmon’s growth.
“Dewayne has done a great job of not getting in foul trouble these last few games,” Cantu said. “And we’ve also been going small lately, and [senior forward] Aaron Fuller is getting a lot more time because of this.”
Dedmon played 31 minutes against Stanford on Thursday, his previous season high.
USC’s next game is on Sunday when it plays rival UCLA at the Galen Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.