With the big news on Sunday about the Cal football program with coach Sonny Dykes' departure, maybe a lot of people in the Bay Area didn't care about the basketball game at the Galen Center.
But the Cal players and coaches certainly did.
The Bears notched their first road win of the season by edging #25 USC 74-73 on two clutch free throws by Ivan Rabb in the final seconds. Cal improved to 11-5 overall, 2-2 in the league.
Cal led for the majority of this intense game, and it was close throughout. About his team, coach Cuonzo Martin said, "They just made enough plays to win the game. Both teams played well."
Rabb finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. The second block at the rim at the buzzer sealed the win for the Golden Bears. Charlie Moore had his best game in league play with 16 points, but made a costly turnover in the final minute that nearly cost Cal the game.
Jabari Bird shook off his poor game at UCLA, making three crucial second half treys on his way to 12 points. Bird also pulled down eight rebounds. The aggressive Don Coleman added 12 points for Cal.
Jordan McLaughlin and Chimezie Metu each had 20 for the Trojans, but it was missed free throws that beat the home team. USC was a terrible 10 of 21 from the line for the game. "It was just one of those night at the line," said McLaughlin. "That's basically where we lost the game."
"Which is surprising, because they are a really good free throw shooting team," said Martin. "So obviously there was a lot of prayer going on at my end."
The Bears weren't much better, going 7 for 14, but Rabb made the two big ones of the night.
The first half was highly competitive. McLaughlin tied it up at 36 at the break with a half court shot at the buzzer. The Trojans got the ball back with 2.2 seconds to go when Rabb lost the ball out of bounds right after a USC turnover.
Cal punished USC on the offensive boards in the first half. The Bears had 10 offensive rebounds leading to 12 second chance points before the break. USC had just two offensive rebounds, and did not convert either of them into points. Cal's margin on points in the paint was 12-2.
Cal needed those extra attempts, because USC shot 56% before the intermission. Cal led for most of the first 20 minutes, and got contributions from Kameron Rooks and Coleman off the bench.
The game stayed close in the second half. Moore tied it at 68 with 3:43 to go with a straight-on three against the Trojan zone after a nice pass out by Rabb. Elijah Stewart countered with a trey for the Trojans to make it 71-68. Rabb then split a pair at the line and the Bears trailed by two.
With Cal in a 2-3 zone, Rabb blocked McLaughlin's shot at the rim, and on Cal's next possession, Bird drained a three from the right corner to give Cal a 72-71 lead with 2:18 to play. That was Cal's last field goal of the game.
McLaughlin, pressured by Moore in the corner, turned it over at the 1:16 mark, but Bird's airball led to a Cal shot clock violation with 45.3 to go. The Trojans called time with 37.4 seconds remaining.
Kingsley Okoroh fouled McLaughlin with just under 30 seconds on the clock, but McLaughlin missed both free throws to keep Cal ahead. Moore threw the ball away after the second miss, and following a Rabb rejection, McLaughlin drove in for a layup to give SC the lead, 73-72 with 17 seconds left.
Martin called time with 14.1 seconds to go, and set up a play to get the ball to Rabb. USC didn't double him, and Metu committed the foul with 5.2 seconds left. Rabb calmly dropped in both free throws to give the Bears a one-point lead, 74-73.
Those were probably the biggest free throws for Rabb since he made the game winning free throw to give his high school team (Bishop O'Dowd) the California state title at Haas Pavilion. When Rabb stepped to the line on Sunday night, he thought, "I've been through this before."
"Obviously, the ball is going inside to Ivan, that's where it should have gone the last time," said Martin. "So we were blessed to capitalize, Ivan made big free throws."
Cal called time to set their defense, and went with a 2-2-1 press. USC inbounded the ball to McLaughlin, and he drove hard toward the rim. Rabb was waiting for him, and went up with both hands to block the shot and secure the victory.
"I just wanted to make a play on the ball," said Rabb. "I'm just glad that nobody fouled and they kind of funneled him to the basket where I could make something happen."
USC coach Andy Enfield saw it differently. "The last play, there was a lot of contact at the rim," said Enfield. "You can't ask for more, Jordan could've easily scored or gone to the foul line, but he didn't."
It was a big win for Cal. Road wins are always hard to come by in the Pac-12, and winning a nail-biter like this is a big deal.
Cal returns home to face the Washington schools at Haas Pavilion next week.
- Game attendance was announced at 5,528.
- Cal was 9 of 23 from outside the arc (30%); the Trojans were 7 of 12 (58%).
- For the game, Cal shot 47.5%, but were 13 of 23 (56.5%) in the second half.
- Cal out-rebounded USC 35-28, but had just two offensive boards in the second half.