On average, guard Maurice Jones plays all but one minute of every game for USC.
It’s an exhausting role for the 5-foot-7 sophomore, but absolutely necessary for a team decimated by injuries.
In a 75-49 loss Thursday night to California at the Galen Center, the Trojans were reminded again of what happens when Jones is forced to leave the game for more than 60 seconds.
“When Mo’s not in there, we don’t function very well,” Coach Kevin O’Neill said. “Not that we function at a high level when he is in there.”
With Jones on the court in the first half, USC was ahead or within striking distance.
After he went to the bench with two fouls, and when he was out for about seven minutes early in the second half because of a cut on his wrist, the Golden Bears pulled away.
USC fell to 6-19 overall and 1-11 in conference play.
“Like a rerun,” Jones, who scored 17 points, said of the loss.
Jones’ frustration with the Trojans’ plight set in “a long time ago,” but he does not fault less-experienced teammates, who are playing increased minutes because season-ending injuries suffered by five players.
“You can’t really blame them,” he said, “They’re all new to this.”
After losing to Arizona last weekend and falling behind Washington in the Pac-12 standings, Cal could not have afforded a loss to the lowly Trojans.
Cal guard Allen Crabbe, a former Price High star, put on a show before a spirited group of supporters as the Golden Bears improved to 19-6 and 9-3 in conference play.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore scored a game-high 19 points — including 11 in a row in the first half — grabbed four rebounds and handed out four assists.
Senior forward Harper Kamp added 18 points and freshman David Kravish had 18 rebounds.
“Those guys are more experienced and better than us on the front line,” O’Neill said, “and it showed tonight.”
Thursday’s game was decidedly different from the season’s first game between the Trojans and the Golden Bears.
In a Pac-12 opener in late December, Cal needed late free throws to hold off the Trojans for a 53-49 victory.
But that was when USC had the semblance of a full roster.
Since then, the Trojans have lost forward Aaron Fuller and 7-footer Dewayne Dedmon to season-ending injuries.
“We have seven guys in black [warmup] suits,” Jones said of the Trojans’ bench. “We have a whole ‘nother team.”
With 7-foot-1 James Blasczyk sitting on the floor to stretch during pregame warmups, the Trojans looked like a junior high team compared to the Golden Bears.
But Jones kept the Trojans in the game with nine points in the opening minutes.
Crabbe got rolling with the Golden Bears trailing, 8-6. He started with a three-pointer, made his next four shots and then added an assist as Cal tied the score, 19-19.
USC went ahead, but once Jones went to the bench with two fouls, the Trojans made only three shots in the final eight minutes, the Golden Bears taking a 35-29 halftime lead on a layup by Crabbe.
The Golden Bears’ 15-4 run in the second half put the game out of reach.