Trojans stumble in conference opener

The bleeding hasn’t stopped for the USC men’s basketball team.

Opening Pac-12 play against California at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif., on Thursday, the Trojans (5-9, 0-1) outscored the host Golden Bears by eight points in the second half, but were nonetheless outdone in the final moments, falling 53-49.

Trailing by one point with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game, senior guard Eric Strangis fouled Cal guard Allen Crabbe, as he launched a 3-pointer from the left side. Crabbe promptly made all three free throw attempts, giving the Golden Bears a late four-point lead they would not relinquish.

The loss marked USC’s fifth in the last six games. It also dropped its record to 2-7 in games decided by six points or fewer.

Most recently, the Trojans stumbled against No. 11 Kansas 63-47 on Dec. 22 at the Galen Center and were hoping to rebound heading into conference play after dropping four out of the last five nonconference games.

Sophomore guard Maurice Jones led the way for USC against Cal, which is regarded by many as the favorite to take home the Pac-12 title this season.

Jones, who led the country in minutes per game entering the contest with 39.1, finished with 17 points on 7-of-18 shooting, including a late of barrage of 3-pointers that kept the Trojans close.

With his team trailing by as much as 16 in the second half, Jones nailed a 3-pointer with 4:39 left to play to cut Cal’s lead to 48-41. On the next possession, he nailed another 3-pointer to cut the deficit to just four points with 3:20 remaining in the game.

Jones was the only USC player to finish in double figures. Sophomore center Dewayne Dedmon and junior forward Aaron Fuller each chipped in with eight points. They did finish with a combined 12 rebounds, helping USC outrebound Cal 38-28.

Still, the Trojans, who shot just 33 percent from the field, fell to the Golden Bears for the fourth time in the last five matchups.

USC coach Kevin O’Neill will lead his young squad across the Bay to Palo Alto, Calif., on Saturday for its second Pac-12 matchup against Stanford.

The Cardinal, which beat UCLA 60-59 on Thursday, are 11-2 on the season and have won six of its last seven games since stumbling against No. 1 Syracuse 69-63 on Nov. 25 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Tip-off is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and will be televised by Fox Sports West.