BERKELEY -- You would think that, after losing three of four home games, the perfect remedy to get the California Golden Bears back on track would be to face the worst team in the conference on their home court. Coming into Sunday, the USC Trojans were 1-12 in conference, with the 177th-ranked scoring offense under first year coach Andy Enfield. To make matters worse for the Trojans, they were without their best offensive player in guard Byron Wesley, who was suspended.
Yet, despite USC missing Wesley's 17.6 points per game, Cal looked like the club in more disarray, at least, until they found their stride late in the second half.
After going back-and-forth with the Trojans, the Bears shot ahead on a 24-8 run in the final 8:14, to win 77-64, thanks in part to 22 points from Justin Cobbs, with 15 of those coming after halftime.
After not showing up against UCLA, the Bears' big man duo of Richard Solomon and David Kravish figured to come with a bit more aggression and get back on track against USC's senior statue in Omar Oraby. The battle of the big men inside figured to dictate the outcome of the game, but with the Bears' big men being more athletic and able score the ball better, the Bears figured to win that battle going away, much like the expected result of the contest.
Instead, for the second consecutive game, Solomon and Kravish struggled to generate any offense when they needed to. In the first period on offense, Kravish and Solomon got good looks at the basket, but just could not convert. The duo combined to shoot 3-for-9 from the field for 9 combined points in the first half, with Solomon going 0-for-3. The lack of offense inside contributed to Cal struggling to effectively score anywhere on the court, as the Bears shot a miserable 36.7% from the field in the first half.
Cal's offensive struggles meant another halftime deficit, even against the last-place team in the conference. At halftime, the Bears trailed the Trojans 30-27.
It was not all bad news in the first half, as they managed to keep the game fairly close due to inept scoring from the Trojans as well. As much as Kravish and Solomon struggled on the offensive end, they dominated the frontcourt on defense.
Oraby -- coming in averaging 8.6 points and 6.4 rebound per game -- could not get anything going into the post, due to the Bears' quick double teams on the center, forcing the ball to find the perimeter. As a result, Oraby's shot attempts were limited in the first 20 minutes, as he managed to go only 1-for-3 from the field for 3 points and only 1 rebound. Kravish and Solomon did their part off of Oraby as well, as Kravish blocked 4 shots in the first half. Solomon added 2 more blocks plus 2 steals, on top of 3 fouls. Even freshman Kameron Rooks got into the action with a block, giving the Bears frontcourt 7 total blocked shots in the first half. While the Bears could not assert themselves on the offensive end, at least they did so on defense, keeping the game within reach.
Cal finally broke through on getting points in the frontcourt, though by not in traditional means. The Bears' duo continued to struggle on the offensive end, but Cal managed to find points close to basket due transition opportunities and timely cuts to the basket by Cal's backcourt.
The Bears finally found their groove on offense, scoring 26 points in the paint and 10 transition points in the 2nd half. Off those 26 points in the paint, only 4 came from Kravish and Solomon, who really struggled to really get into any rhythm due to foul trouble. Instead, it was the combination of Cobbs and Wallace driving to the basket and getting easy points. The efforts of those 2 specifically inside opened up better opportunities outside, as the drive-and-dish went into full effect in the final 6 minutes of the game. Cobbs' ability to score inside forced USC's defense to collapse, allowing 2 key Jabari Bird 3-point baskets to finally put Cal out of the Trojans' reach.
And while the Bears' key adjustments on offense paid off to the tune of a 50-point second half, Cal's stout defense remained just as strong. Despite the four fouls on Solomon, Cal got a key second half defensive performances from Kravish -- who had an additional block and two steals while being the leader close to the basket. Freshman Kameron Rooks also provided big minutes, holding Oraby at bay even with Solomon out. Oraby scored zero second half points and managed to grab only four rebounds, as the senior just could not adjust to Cal's consistent double teams at any point in the game.
The Bears' ability to finally generate easy buckets close to the hoop keyed blowout effort in the second half to the tune of 50-34, with much of it coming down the stretch when the Bears finally managed to put USC away.
As has been the case all season, the Bears' strongest efforts occur when they get that production inside. In recent weeks, that has been an issue on the offensive end, as Solomon and Kravish seem to have hit a midseason lull at the wrong time. Fortunately, on Sunday, the Bears managed to adjust and get on the right track. Hopefully, in Arizona next week, with the Bears needing a crucial split on the road, their duo can do so, as well.
ANALYSIS: Inside the Numbers
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