In its first game back at Galen Center since December, the USC men’s basketball team took care of business with a dominant 88-56 win against Cal Thursday.
Now at 3-1 in conference play, the Trojans have improved to 14-3 overall on the season and have extended their winning streak against the Bears to five games.
The Trojans ran a tight defense in the first half, blocking the Bears from inside the arc and allowing only 7 points through the first eight minutes of play. Berkeley’s star sophomore guard Matt Bradley still provided an offensive threat with 11 points in the half, but USC’s defense held Bradley, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week, to just 13 points by the end of the game.
“If you hold him under his average, like we did tonight, that’s all you can ask for on a day-to-day basis,” senior guard Jonah Mathews said. “You’re not going to lock anyone to zero especially at this Pac-12 level, so holding them under average is the main thing every night and we’ve been having to do that the last couple of games.”
A staggering 61% 3-point shooting night allowed the Trojans to finish with the second-most points they’ve scored in a game all season. Mathews led both teams with 19 points on the night, knocking in 3 of 5 from beyond the arc and contributing to the team’s 75% 3-point percentage in the first half.
Besides turnovers — USC committed 14 to Cal’s 10 — the Trojans dominated the stat sheet. Senior forward Nick Rakocevic and freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu accounted for 13 of the team’s 39 defensive rebounds, and USC finished with 45 boards in total.
The Bears finished with just 28.
USC also collected 21 assists, aiding its offensive productivity. And although the Trojans struggled at times in the paint, the team’s ball movement is an indicator of its growing cohesiveness and rhythm.
“It’s also a new team, new personalities, so we’re all just coming together really tight,” Mathews said. “It’s chemistry. Knowing where we’re going to be at helps and finding open shots and knocking them down.”
USC expanded its lead in the second half, pulling ahead by 20 with 11 minutes left and never looking back.
Redshirt senior Daniel Utomi has proven to be a key player in the Trojans’ recent success, and he showed it again Thursday. Building off last week’s 13-point performance at UCLA, Utomi went 6 for 9 in the field, finishing with 17 points and seven rebounds while knocking down 4 of 6 3-pointers.
“[Utomi] had two really good games. [He] played great against UCLA [and] played great tonight,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “He’s a very solid basketball player on both ends.”
The Trojans received strong contributions all down the lineup, as sophomore guard Elijah Weaver racked up 8 points off the bench, and freshman small forward Max Agbonkpolo contributed 7 points in just eight minutes of play.
The game demonstrated the team’s high potential in future Pac-12 play. Defeating Berkeley proves further improvement from the team’s lopsided 72-40 loss against Washington on Jan. 5, as Thursday’s team 50% shooting clip was on par with the 57.4% performance at UCLA last week.
The Trojans will stay at home for the weekend to face Stanford Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Stanford is the only team ahead of the Trojans in the Pac-12 standings, and USC will have to continue its offensive production to hand the Cardinal their first conference loss.