Jones' Dominance Dooms Sluggish Bears

Photo: Center Markhuri Sanders-Frison scored a game-high 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting. He also scored the first 3-pointers of his career in Cal's losing effort on Thursday night.
Annie Marie Schuler/Senior Staff
Center Markhuri Sanders-Frison scored a game-high 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting. He also scored the first 3-pointers of his career in Cal's losing effort on Thursday night.

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After escaping USC with a narrow four-point victory in January, Cal coach Mike Montgomery mentioned the importance of closing out the perimeter after Trojan reserve Donte Smith hit eight 3-pointers to almost singlehandedly will his team to victory.

Last place in the conference at defending the three-ball, the Cal men's basketball team struggled mightily on Thursday, only this time it was little Maurice Jones that did all of the damage in the Trojans' 78-75 victory over the Bears (13-13, 6-8 in the Pac-10) on Thursday night at Haas Pavilion.

A 5-foot-7 guard who hadn't scored more than 14 points in a conference game this season exploded for 22 points - all in the second half - to anchor SC's first road win since Jan. 27.

"Jones got it going just like Smith did last time, only it was on the other side of the zone," Montgomery said. "We didn't get up to the shooter time and time again and he made them all."

Playing their second game without freshman Allen Crabbe, the Bears played one of their more listless home games of the season - particularly in the first half - and the loss pushed Cal's season-high losing streak to four games.

"We missed Al from every aspect of the game," senior Markhuri Sanders-Frison said. "He's a big key and a big part. You guys can see that he helps out a lot."

The top defending team in the conference, USC (14-12, 6-7) held Cal to a measly 24-percent shooting in the first half, which helped the Trojans sustain a hot start to the second frame. And of their paltry 22 first-half points, the Bears scored nine of those on free throws.

"Truthfully, the first half was ridiculous," Montgomery said. "We just didn't come to play. Whatever the reason was, we didn't come out ready to compete and USC did. They got physical with us, they fronted the post, and we got backed off."

Sanders-Frison led the Bears with 23 points and 11 rebounds and Harper Kamp pitched in 16 points and 10 rebounds. Sanders-Frison scored an astonishing 10 points in the final minute, including the first two 3-pointers of his collegiate career to give the Bears a semblance of hope in the waning seconds of the game.

After the Bears trimmed the Trojan lead to 42-41 with 14:27 remaining in the game, Jones commanded an offensive surge for USC very similar to Smith's perimeter barrage the last time these teams met.

The Trojans scored on nine consecutive possessions, highlighted by Jones' 13 straight points. First, the diminutive freshman drove straight at Sanders-Frison, who was playing with three fouls, for an acrobatic layup. Then, the guard would settle in nicely at the perimeter, knocking down three 3-pointers during that stretch and comfortably extending the Trojan's previously fragile one-point lead to 12. The Saginaw, Mich., hit a career-best five threes on six attempts.

Leading scorer and rebounder Nikola Vucevic also beat the Cal defense from both inside and out to finish with 21 points and 10 rebounds. The junior from Montenegro swished mid-range jumpers and even stepped out to the perimeter to hit both of his 3-point attempts. While his numbers were strong, Montgomery credited Vucevic's presence as a primary reason Jones was able to open up for so many open shots.

"It's disappointing because (our defense) is a well-conceived plan," Montgomery said. "The problem is Vucevic hurts you a lot at the high post ... Then Jones got it going."


Gabriel Baumgaertner covers men's basketball. Contact him at [email protected]

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