USC Doesn't Make Excuses (or Enough Shots)

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Give USC credit for its honesty, for not blaming its performance Thursday night against California on anything but outstanding defense from the Bears combined with a Trojan offense that seemed stuck in traffic.

It would have been easy to say the absence of Rodrick Rhodes, who did not dress because of a sprained knee, was the reason for an 83-71 loss at the Cow Palace.

Or, to say that Jaha Wilson, who went home earlier this week to San Francisco to be with his family after the death of his grandmother, was not his usual self.

But that would be in contrast to what the 9,132 saw, and didn't see from the Trojans.

"Those aren't the reasons we lost tonight," Coach Henry Bibby said. "We did enough to win, 71 points is enough to win, and we got good looks at the basket, we just didn't come through."

USC shot a season-low 31% (21 of 67) from the field and turned the ball over 25 times, a season high, while the Bears shot 59.6% (31 of 52). Going into Thursday night, the Bears were giving up a Pacific 10 Conference-best 66.4 points per game and just under 39% shooting. USC helped Cal go to 10-1 when opponents shoot less than 40%.

"We probably missed six or seven uncontested layups," Bibby said.

While USC's top scorer (Rhodes) watched from the bench, Cal's best threat, Ed Gray, torched the Trojans for 28 points. He and reserve forward Tony Gonzalez helped the Bears pull away in the second half by scoring 19 and 11, respectively, after the intermission.

Both hurt USC in the second half when the Trojans pulled to within four, 38-34, with 17:36 left. Cal went on a 12-2 run with Gonzalez scoring six and highlighted by Gray's three-point play.

"We tried to key on [Randy] Duck and Gray, but we didn't do the job," Bibby said. "And Gonzalez hurt us inside."

Said Cal Coach Ben Braun: "We knew Tony was going to be a key for us because he matches up well with them physically."

USC (7-4, 2-1) was led by David Crouse's 21 (including 11 of 11 on free throws) and 14 from Gary Williams.

"Only two players came to play for us tonight, David Crouse and Gary Williams," Bibby said. "I didn't know who to put at the other three spots. It seemed like no one wanted to play."

That includes senior Stais Boseman, who had 11 points and six turnovers.

"Stais played terrible," Bibby said.

Said Williams: "We needed guys to come in and play hard and they didn't. We need to win without Rodrick and also we needed to be there for Jaha [two points in 14 minutes]. I think he missed some shots early and lost his confidence, but we needed to make some baskets and help him out. We just didn't do it."

Two free throws from Williams and a short jump shot by Anthony White were all the prevented the Bears' 34-28 halftime lead from being much larger.

Cal (10-4, 1-2) held USC to 34.8% shooting and forced 14 turnovers, six by Boseman. Good free throw shooting (11 of 13) and 10 points from Crouse saved the Trojans from a larger deficit. Duck, who had 10 points in the first half and finished with 17, gave Cal its largest first-half lead, 34-24, on a layup with 42 seconds left.

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