The privilege of donning two shoes of contrasting colors is one reserved for a select few. Such a fashion statement demands not just the swagger to lace ‘em up, but the talent to back it up.
Bennie Boatwright sauntered out onto the Haas Pavilion hardwood Saturday stunting in a pair of Nike LeBron 16s “Equality” — white on the left, black on the right. Whether or not he’d admit it, Boatwright knew he was the best player on the floor, and with heat of that caliber, the sequence of events that unfolded should come as a surprise to no one.
Any chance that Cal men’s basketball would carry residual energy from its last few contests was eviscerated by Boatwright, who poured in 36 points and a program-record 10 3-pointers to lead USC’s 89-66 onslaught.
“He was hitting some threes at the top of the key over my guards,” said head coach Wyking Jones. “When I walked past him in the line to shake his hand, he’s 6’8”, 6’9”. He’s got great size. He found a rhythm. They did a great job of feeding him, did a really good job of finding him. You could see that it was almost like a team effort to get him looks.”
Boatwright became just the fourth player in Pac-12 history to drill 10 3-pointers in a game and the first since Robert Franks, who, coincidentally, did the same against Cal last season. Talk about a bad case of déjà vu.
It wasn’t just the quantity of threes that Boatwright knocked down but the degree of difficulty aside from the standard catch-and-shoot variety. One three came as he was hit and slightly fading in the left corner, right in front of the Bears’ bench. Another was from the Haas Pavilion logo, about three feet behind the arc.
But the coup de grâce came with about four minutes remaining in regulation. Boatwright received a pass, pulled up from the Haas Pavilion with Paris Austin right in his face and connected on nothing but net. That shot gave Boatwright his final points of the game, gave USC its largest lead of the night and officially crushed any remnants of Cal’s spirit.
“Bennie is a talented player. We let him get started, like I said, early,” said sophomore forward Justice Sueing. “That confidence — his shot was feeling good. He got us tonight. He got the best of us tonight. We should’ve made adjustments, but he had a good game.”
It wasn’t just Boatwright who was feeling himself, but the entire team as USC rained down a season-high 19 3-pointers. Jonah Mathews and Kevin Porter Jr. had three apiece. Shaqquan Aaron added in a deuce.
On the flip side of that coin, those were the most 3-pointers Cal has allowed an opponent to make not just this season, but in Jones’ tenure as head coach. Such performances don’t come around often, but Jones may have had foresight into his team’s fate.
“Yesterday in practice during our zone shell segment — a 15-minute segment, two minutes to go in the segment — I said to the guys, ‘If we play the way we’re playing in this zone segment, we’re going to lose by 30 tomorrow,’ ” Jones said. “I told Chris(topher) Oakes, ‘Restart the clock. We’re going to redo the segment because this is unacceptable.’ ”
Aside from the obvious hurt that comes with a 23-point whooping on one’s home floor, this one especially stings considering the Bears’ progress in recent weeks. The team’s last four losses to Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA had come by a combined 28 points, the latter two of which could’ve gone either way.