Update 01/05/2018: This story has been updated to include more information, as well as quotes from players and coaches, after Cal’s loss to USC.
On some nights, it feels as if everything that can go wrong will go wrong. For the Cal men’s basketball team (7-8), its conference home opener against USC (11-5) was one of those days at the office. Despite USC missing its star forward, junior Chimezie Metu, in the first half, the Bears were blasted out of the water by the Trojans 80-62.
Metu would play 11 minutes in the second half and post six points and four rebounds, but the outcome of the game was all but decided by the time the forward took the floor, as the Trojans mounted a 21-point lead at the half. USC would lead by as much as 30 points in the second half before Cal began chipping away at the deficit during garbage time.
Cal’s loss was another blowout characterized by the usual combination of bad shooting and turnovers, as the Bears shot 39.7 percent and turned the ball over 22 times, the third time this season they’ve turned the ball over 20 times or more.
“We dug ourselves into a hole early off of turnovers,” said freshman Justice Sueing. “It’s hard for any team to come back like that. We did a better job in the second half, but all we can do now is look to the future, go through film, see what we did wrong and adjust from there.”
One of the lone bright spots for Cal was the bench unit, as freshman Juhwan Harris-Dyson and sophomore Roman Davis provided a much-needed spark off the bench. Harris-Dyson posted 10 points, four rebounds and three assists to complement Davis’ five points. Freshman Deschon Winston would also hit a pair of 3-pointers in garbage time and finish the game with six points.
The lowerclassmen, however, couldn’t make up for the starting unit’s subpar offensive performance. Sueing fell a rebound shy of a double-double, finishing the game with 15 points and nine boards, both of which were team highs. Senior Marcus Lee had a solid night scoring the ball, with 10 points and eight rebounds, but had a team-high five turnovers.
“(Lee’s) rushing,” said Cal head coach Wyking Jones. “You’ve seen in the past couple games. When he rushes, he travels, he charges, but when he takes his time, he’s hard to guard. He looks really good when he takes his time. For whatever reason tonight, he was just rushed. He was trying to make plays too quick.”
Freshman guard Darius McNeill and junior guard Don Coleman had two of their worst respective games of the season, shooting a combined 3 of 16 from the field with six turnovers to go between them.
Three Trojans would finish the game in double figures, with sophomore forward Nick Rakocevic posting a game-high 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting along with seven rebounds. Senior guard Jordan McLaughlin would dish out eight assists while only giving the ball away once.
The loss marks the eighth time that Cal’s defense has allowed 80 or more points this season.
“That’s a tough one,” Jones said. “I felt like we had a really good week of practice, I felt like our guys gave us everything all week long. We had some good momentum going winning the last four out of five, but, once again, dug ourselves a hole.”
Cal had the task of playing essentially two different teams in one night, as Metu sat the first half after he hit Washington State’s Carter Skaggs in the groin and was handed a flagrant two foul during USC’s previous game.
For the first 20 minutes of action, the Trojans were without their leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker in Metu, giving the Bears a golden opportunity to capitalize before halftime. For USC, however, Metu’s absence didn’t send the team into a frenzy, as the Trojans took control early.
With Metu not on the floor, USC head coach Andy Enfield would go deep into his bench, calling on freshman Victor Uyaelunmo and redshirt sophomore Derryck Thornton. Heading into play, Uyaelunmo averaged only 3.5 minutes per game, and Thornton had seen the court in fewer than half of USC’s matchups. Despite Metu not being on the floor, Cal struggled mightily on the offensive end of the floor.
The Bears’ poor execution in the first half was a combination of self-inflicted wounds and a patient Trojan defense. Instead of trying to jump the passing lanes, USC’s defenders forced Cal’s offense to swing the ball around the perimeter, winding down the shot clock and forcing the Bears into low-percentage shots.
The Trojans applied pressure all throughout the first half of play and forced 15 Cal turnovers for 17 points off turnovers. The epitome of the Bears’ inability to take care of the basketball was the group’s two five-second violations, both of which came at the expense of McNeill. USC ran a relatively calm full-court press throughout the ballgame, but even that slight bit of pressure caused problems for Cal’s offense.
“Although it wasn’t an aggressive press, it caused us problems. It put our guys on their heels,” Jones said. “The press, even though it wasn’t aggressive — it was more of a showing press — once we got into the half court setting against their 2-3, we were still on our heels.”
When Cal wasn’t giving the ball away, the team was stacking up bricks, shooting a horrid 30.8 percent from the field at the end of the first half. The Bears would go without scoring a bucket for two separate droughts of more than 4.5 minutes. Needless to say, it was a night to forget.
Even without Metu, the USC offense wasn’t out of sync by any means. The Trojans would end the first half shooting 44 percent from the field with only five turnovers. Five players ended the half of basketball with at least five points, and Rakocevic led the way with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
Metu’s services weren’t in dire need by the start of the second half, but the forward’s impact was felt, most notably when he put Lee on a poster with a monster slam. USC would shoot an even more efficient 48.4 percent in the second half.
Cal will have an opportunity to shake off this game quick as it takes on UCLA on Saturday. The Bruins fell to the Cardinal 107-99 in overtime.