Poor defense and missed opportunities cost the USC Trojans tonight, as they dropped a home game, 68-66 to the California Golden Bears at Galen Center. USC fell behind by six points in the final minutes, but had a chance to tie or win at the end. A desperation three-point attempt by Jio Fontan fell short at the buzzer, sealing the win for Cal.
USC (11-9, 3-4) was able to stay in the game thanks to a career high 24 points from senior guard Donte Smith off the bench. Smith hit eight three-pointers, one shy of the school record, in 12 attempts. The Trojans' bench outscored Cal's reserves 32-9.
However, USC's defense was lacking. "It comes down to playing awful, awful defense for five straight minutes at the end, when every time [Cal] threw it in the post, they scored," head coach Kevin O'Neill said after the game. Harper Kamp led Cal (10-9, 3-4) with 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Freshman Allen Crabbe, the Bears' leading scorer in conference play, hit three shots from beyond the arc en route to 12 points.
The Trojans had trouble with Cal's zone defense, especially in the first half. The Trojans made 11 of 26 shots from distance (42.3%), although the non-Smith shooters made just three of 14 three-pointers. With the transfer of Bryce Jones, Smith is the main three-point weapon for USC, as Smith has made 50 threes compares to 59 combined from his current teammates. The Trojans made just 12 of 31 two-pointers (38.7%) on the night.
The Trojans' leading scorer and rebounder, Nikola Vucevic, had a rough game, making just two of eight field goals, scoring six points and grabbing 10 rebounds before fouling out. "Nik got hit in the mouth, and really never got back into the game at all," O'Neill said. "He wasn't involved at all, and let that injury take him out completely."
Alex Stephenson, who made three of is six field goals, was the only other Trojan besides Smith to hit at least half his shots. USC travels to the Arizona schools next weekend, beginning with a Thursday night contest against Arizona State in Tucson.
For more information on tonight's game, be sure to read Conquest Chronicles.