Trojans’ road struggles continue with loss at Cal

The road has not been friendly for the Trojans this season, as they dropped their sixth consecutive away game Sunday night in an 87-65 loss to Cal at Haas Pavilion.

USC (19-10, 8-8) wraps up its road conference schedule with a 2-7 record and has dropped five of its last six games. Meanwhile, the Bears (21-9, 11-5) finish the season a perfect 18-0 at home.

“We can’t afford to play like that anymore,” junior guard Julian Jacobs said of the road struggles. “It’s ridiculous. It’s the same thing every single time. It’s very frustrating. It’s the same game. It’s basketball – same hoop, same ball. Whatever it is, we’re mental midgets on the road.”

Junior forward Nikola Jovanovic was the lone bright spot for the Trojans. Jovanovic had 21 points and nine rebounds, but only he and Jacobs – who finished with 11 points – scored in double figures.

The Trojans started off with great energy on defense and on the boards as Jovanovic was highly efficient inside, going 7-of-8 from the field in the first half for 14 points. With USC down four, freshman center Chimezie Metu recorded two blocks that each led to layups on the other end. A putback by Jovanovic followed to give the Trojans a 14-11 lead at the 13:52 mark of the first half and the game was tied at 26-26 midway through the first half.

“We played hard in the beginning of the game,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “It was 26-all. We were defending, rebounding, pushing the ball. We got good looks at the basket.”

But the Trojans went cold the remainder of the half, going on a scoring drought that lasted nearly seven minutes as the Bears went on a 14-0 run to take a 40-26 lead. To wrap up the half, Cal freshman forward Jaylen Brown went coast-to-coast in 3.8 seconds and finished at the rim, a fitting end to a frustrating first 20 minutes of play.

“All of a sudden, they kept making shots and we stopped,” Enfield said. “That was the difference in the game. You can’t get down double-digits at Cal and expect to win.”

USC trailed 44-30 at halftime and like the loss against Stanford on Thursday night, never threatened in the second half as the Bears built a 20-plus point advantage. Cal wound up shooting 48 percent as Brown and fellow freshman Ivan Rabb led the way with 18 points each.

The Bears made 10 3-pointers while the Trojans struggled despite getting quality shots, which, for whatever reason, led to issues on the defensive end of the floor.

“We pretty much got whatever we wanted,” Jacobs said. “We just didn’t finish. A lot of shots went in and out. Whenever we don’t make shots, it translates to poor defense. That was the name of the game. We just couldn’t guard.”

Coming into the night, USC had allowed its past four opponents to shoot at a combined 49.3 percent clip.

The Trojans drop to .500 in conference play and are tied with Oregon State and Stanford for sixth in the Pac-12 conference. They wrap up their season with a pair of home games this week against Oregon State and Oregon.

“It’s not looking too good for us,” Jacobs said. “We definitely need to regroup, and we really need these two games at home.”