Bears Bow Out of Pac-10 Tourney in First-Round Loss to USC

Photo: Junior Harper Kamp had a forgettable effort against the Trojans on Thursday at the Staples Center. USC's defense shut Kamp down for just six points on the afternoon.
Emma Lantos/Staff
Junior Harper Kamp had a forgettable effort against the Trojans on Thursday at the Staples Center. USC's defense shut Kamp down for just six points on the afternoon.

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LOS ANGELES - Playing USC this season has been less basketball and more whack-a-mole for the Cal men's basketball team.

At the Galen Center, it was Donte Smith who caught fire.

They shut him down a month later in Berkeley ... only to see tiny Maurice Jones erupt.

On Thursday afternoon at the Staples Center, Cal failed to contain either of USC's speedy guards in a 70-56 loss. The diminutive duo combined for 30 points to vault surging USC (19-13, 10-8 in the Pac-10) into the Pac-10 Tournament semi-finals against Arizona.

The Bears, meanwhile, were sent packing.

"We really had trouble keeping their quick guards in front of us, especially in the second half," Bears coach Mike Montgomery said. "The two guys who hurt us in the regular season really ended up being a thorn in our side."

Like his 24-point outburst against Cal (17-14, 10-8 in the Pac-10) in January, Smith did much of his damage on Thursday with crisp outside shooting. He scored 12 of his 14 points from beyond the arc, while the 5-foot-7 Jones attacked the rim for lay-ups or point-blank assists.

They combined for 10 points during the game's key stretch, an opening push out of intermission that upped the Trojans' 35-27 halftime lead to 53-37.

Along with 14 points and 16 rebounds from Alex Stepheson, the two guards helped make up for a seven-point night by Nikola Vucevic. Hampered by foul trouble, USC's All-Pac-10 first teamer was held to seven points - including just one in the first half.

"Most of the time we run our stuff through Nik and Jio (Fontan)," USC head coach Kevin O'Neill said. "The first game we played, Nik didn't do anything and we lost by two ... We've been getting those kind of performances by different guys in different weeks and it was our turn to carry him today."

Cal, meanwhile, could not overcome off-days from critical scorers. The Bears received a game-high 21 points from Allen Crabbe, whose transition three at the 6:42 helped an 18-point second-half deficit to 10. However, their three veteran scorers all turned in forgettable outings.

Harper Kamp was smothered by the Trojans' sizable front line and mustered six points, and senior Markhuri Sanders-Frison scored two on just four attempts.

The most frustrating performance of the afternoon belonged to Jorge Gutierrez, who went 2-for-10 and recorded more turnovers (seven) than points (four). Gutierrez has shot just 6-for-32 from the floor in three contests against USC.

"Jorge's such an integral part of what we do," Montgomery said. "We really don't have the luxury of seeing our main guys not have good games ...

"I think they hurt us mentally, to where we lost a little bit of our fire and then it hurt our defense. We weren't able to stay in front of people."

Defensive intensity certainly wasn't the issue for Cal early on. The Bears used an effective man scheme to rattle the Trojans and build a quick 11-3 lead in the opening 12:30. Yet, Cal couldn't take advantage when USC came out of the gates with cold shooting and listless offense.

"I don't think we played like we were capable of," Montgomery said. "Our inability to score the ball early got to us and hurt our confidence."


Ed Yevelev covers men's basketball. Contact him at [email protected]

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