Cal Basketball: Trojans Use Defense and Perimeter Shooting to Bury Bears, 88-56

Jeff Faraudo

This one figured to be tough for Cal.

And it was. 

USC made 14 of 23 shots from the 3-point arc and held the Bears to 33-percent shooting in a decisive 88-56 victory on Thursday night at the Galen Center.

The Bears (8-9, 2-2 Pac-12) fell back below the .500 mark and remain winless away from home. They are 0-4 on the road and 0-7 in all road/neutral games.

USC (14-3, 3-1) was in charge from the start. Cal led 2-0, and never again.

The Bears did a decent job against USC's two talented big men, Nick Rakocevic and freshman Onyeka Okongwu. The tradeoff was the Trojans lit them up from deep. 

Jonah Mathews - whose older brother Jordan once played at Cal - scored 19 points and was 3-for-5 on 3-pointers. Daniel Utomi, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound graduate senior transfer from Akron, scored a USC career-high 17 points and was 4-for-6 from deep.

“Obviously, I thought SC played well," Cal coach Mark Fox said. "We didn’t shoot it very good and they shot great. I thought our struggles offensively affected our mentality on the defensive end.”

Okongwu had 12 points and 8 rebounds for the Trojans, who won for the eighth time in their past nine games. Rakocevic, who had a career-high 27 against the Bears a year ago, finished with 9 points.

Matt Bradley, Cal's reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week, scored 11 points in the first half but struggled with foul trouble and scored just two more points. Kareem South, who shot just 4-for-24 in Cal's first three conference games, came alive to score 12 on 5-for-12 from the field.

The Bears were outrebounded 45-28.

Cal returns to action Sunday against UCLA.

PRE-GAME: Having watched UCLA lose to Stanford on Wednesday night, I am here to report that Cal will have a tougher time tonight at USC than it might on Sunday against the Bruins.

UCLA looked terrible. Not because the Bruins lost to Stanford - there’s a lot of that going on right now. The Cardinal is the surprise of the Pac-12 at 15-2 overall and alone atop the conference standings at 4-0 heading into play tonight. 

No, the Bruins looked terrible on their own merit.

They are 8-9, for crying out loud.

They have lost four games already at Pauley Pavilion, including to Hofstra and Cal State Fullerton.

They are 1-3 and tied for last place in the Pac-12.

They are 153rd in the NCAA’s current NET rankings, which has them 11th among Pac-12 teams, just two spots ahead of Cal.

They rank 10th in the conference in field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage, and they are worse defensively, 11th and 12th in those respective categories.

None of that helps the Bears (8-8, 2-1) tonight when they take on a USC (13-3, 2-1) team that will challenge them in the paint. This will be a tough game.

Cal, still seeking its first road win of the season, perhaps can find some hope here: USC is last in the conference, allowing 15.3 turnovers per game.

Tipoff at the Galen Center is at 7:30 p.m. The game is being televised on the Pac-12 Network.

Check back later for in-game updates.

CAL STARTERS: Guards Joel Brown, Matt Bradley and Kareem South, forward Grant Anticevich and center Lars Thiemann.

15:41 1st H: Not a great start for the Bears. Thiemann picks up 2 personal fouls in the opening 70 seconds and earns a seat on the bench. Then, after Matt Bradley scores on a drive, the Bears miss their next six shots from the field. In the meantime, USC missed four straight free throws to start the game before outscoring Cal 9-1. USC 9, Cal 5.

11:39 1st H: Paris Austin made just his second 3-pointer of the season (he was 1-for-7) and Cal has closed what was a nine-point margin. But the Trojans' defense is making it tough for the Bears to locate good shots. Cal is 4-for-15 from the field and Austin's three was their first after seven straight misses from beyond the arc. USC 16 Cal 10.

7:12 1st H: Bradley just hit back-to-back 3-pointers and the Bears are maintaining contact. He has 11 of the team's 17 points. He is 4-for-9 from the field, rest of the Bears are 2-for-11. USC 22, Cal 17.

3:58 1st H: A critical time for the Bears, who are close to losing touch. USC is on a 9-0 run, punctuated by back-to-back 3-pointers from Jonah Mathews and Daniel Utomi. Cal is shooting 28 percent, USC is at 56 percent. USC 31, Cal 19.

HALFTIME: USC 41, Cal 25. The Trojans outscored the Bears 19-6 over the final 6:40 of the half, stretching a a 3-point margin to 16 points, their largest lead of the night. The Trojans are shooting 57 percent, including 6-for-8 on 3-pointers. Cal is at 30 percent and 4-for-14 from deep. USC is out-rebounding the Bears 23-13 and has allowed just one offensive rebound. Cal has just two turnovers to eight for the Trojans, but the shooting discrepancy is so great it hasn't mattered. Matt Bradley leads the Bears with 11 points but his teammates have combined for just 14 on 5-for-19 shooting. Jonah Mathews has 12 points and Daniel Utomi has 10 for the Trojans.

15:51 2nd H: The Trojans continue to hurt Cal from the perimeter. Utomi and Mathews each have another 3-pointer (USC is 8-for-11 from deep) and the Trojans maintain control. Mathews has a game-high 15 points, Utomi has 13. Bradley leads Cal with 13. USC 47, Cal 32.

14:01 2nd H: Matt Bradley is whistled for a charge and his fourth personal foul. Takes a seat. Not much offense left on the floor for Cal. USC 50, Cal 34.

7:42 2nd H: Looking for a silver lining . . . freshman Dimitrios Klonaras of Greece just scored his first collegiate points on a jump shot. Also was fouled and will go to the FT line after the timeout. (Made it). Not much else going right for the Bears. USC used a 10-0 to extend its lead to 62-26. This one's kinda over. USC 63, Cal 41.

5:38 2nd H: The Bears had four freshmen on the court before the timeout - Joel Brown, Dimitrios Klonaras, Kuany Kuany and D.J. Thorpe. The other spot was manned by sophomore post Andre Kelly, in the game because freshman big man Lars Thiemann has fouled out. USC 68, Cal 44.