As the shot clock wound down, Cal guard Tyrone Wallace brought the ball out to left corner — drawing out the USC basketball team’s defense. Then, using every stretch of his 6-foot-5 frame, the senior does the improbable. Driving into the paint, Wallace sinks a lighting-fast dunk over the 6-foot-11 body of forward Nikola Jovanovic, and a minor eruption hits Haas Pavilion.
But the cheers aren’t for a game-winning play. With 6:20 left to play and up 77-51, the game was already over.
Instead, the applause is for one of the last highlights they will see from Wallace on his home court. Coming away with a 87-65 win over USC (19-10, 8-8) on Senior Night, the Bears closed out their home schedule undefeated in Berkeley on Sunday evening. With the victory, Cal improves to 21-8, 11-5 Pac-12, and continues a seven-game winning streak as it heads into its final week of the regular season.
Despite the dominant ending, the game started out a tightly contested affair. The Trojans notched the first points of the game off of an assist by guard Julian Jacobs to Jovanovic — a combo that would give Cal trouble early in the frame. Soon after, the Bears would counter with a three from junior guard Jabari Bird on the other end.
The game would continue in the same fashion. The Trojans utilized a larger-than-usual lineup with both forwards Jovanovic and Chimezie Metu on the court, but Cal quickly proved that it could take advantage of the holes left on the outside. Meanwhile, USC exploited a poor showing from Cal’s inside presence on the other end. By the under-eight timeout, the squads were tied 26-26.
It was a new game coming out of the timeout. After freshman forward Jaylen Brown sunk one of two free throws to bring the score to 27-26, the team was on its way to a 14-0 run. Struggling to find a good shot against a tighter post defense from Cal, particularly against Jovanovic, USC watched the game slip to a 40-26 deficit with under two minutes left in the first half.
“I think we started to settle down and play some good basketball,” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin.
While the Trojans would finally find a couple of buckets before the buzzer sounded, the momentum remained definitively with the Bears through the end of the half. With about four seconds left, Wallace — under the Trojans’ basket — inbounded the ball to Brown for an unlikely final play. As if in testament to the game’s blistering pace, the freshman forward covered nearly the entire length of the court, eviscerating any defensive effort from the Trojans to make a jaw-dropping layup and give Cal a dominant 44-30 lead.
“That was an amazing play; he’s a track star I guess,” Wallace said.
The second half would continue to fall in favor of the Bears. Despite experimenting with a zone early in the frame, the Trojans still had trouble containing Cal’s offense, and never found their own necessary offensive push to bring the game close. The Bears would draw out their lead off of a strong second half from guard Jordan Mathews, who shot 3-5 from the perimeter, and an improved showing from Wallace, who notched eight points in the second half. By the end of regulation, five players for the Bears would register more than 10 points on the way to the 87-65 finish.
Dani Jo Coony covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].