Before Wednesday, USC had looked as if it were headed for another miserable year in the Pac-12. In their first two conference games, against Colorado and Utah, the Trojans had lost by a combined 45 points. The team's leading scorer, freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin, was to sit out.
For the conference home opener against California, attendance at the Galen Center was a meager 3,355.
And then something unusual happened. USC won a Pac-12 game, 71-57, over the Golden Bears.
Suddenly, USC (9-6, 1-2 in Pac-12), is already only one win off its conference victory total from last season, when its first Pac-12 win also came against California.
The triumph is far from season-defining. California (11-5, 1-2) has wins over Syracuse and Washington, then ranked No. 23 and No. 21 respectively, but has struggled offensively in recent games. In their previous three contests, the Bears had losses to Cal State Bakersfield and Washington State, which finished second-to-last in the Pac-12 last season.
But for the Trojans, the win was another sign of progress. They lack a signature win, but they won games at New Mexico and Boston College. The problem has been consistency.
They led nearly wire to wire against the Golden Bears. USC went on a 13-0 run in the first half to jump out to an early 17-6 edge by converting turnovers into easy layups. They led by nine at the half, despite not making a single three-pointer.
"I was looking for somebody in the stands to come shoot a three for us," USC Coach Andy Enfield said.
California threatened but never pulled close in the second half, mainly because it shot 35.4% from the field for the game. USC led by 19 with four minutes to go but allowed nine unanswered, and Enfield was forced to call two timeouts. Eventually, Nikola Jovanovic ended the run, and the Trojans' lead was never in serious jeopardy.
Jovanovic finished with nine rebounds and paced USC with 20 points, his 10th consecutive game in double figures.
Katin Reinhardt scored 16 points on five-of-14 shooting, and Julian Jacobs scored 17 while shifting into the point guard role for the injured McLaughlin.
"Julian played his best game of the year," Enfield said.
Before the game, McLaughlin shot around to test his injured right shoulder, but for the second game in a row, he did not play.
McLaughlin separated his shoulder against Utah on Jan. 2, and the team has classified him as day to day.