The late arriving California Golden Bear crowd was treated to one of the best college basketball games of the year that took an extra five-minute period to decide.
The Bears controlled the game from the opening tip until midway through the second half when Cal's two Achilles heels showed there ugly face again – the offensive boards and ball handling. The Trojans doubled the Bears 12-6 on the offensive boards, which helped USC crawl back into the game. Down by 10, USC went on a 14-4 run at the 6:46 mark to tie the game at 65. USC guard Daniel Hackett was their anchor scoring 26 points even though he was in early foul trouble.
Jerome Randle contributed 15 points, including three from downtown all in the first half. He added eight assists and went 6-of-6 from the charity stripe. Senior Center Jordan Wilkes, who was playing in his next to last home game as a Golden Bear and a game time decision toughed it out with numerous injuries including a broken nose and a concussion. He added 5 rebounds and 5 assists. They could have used his size in the second half, but he was kept on the bench for most of it.
Free throw shooting may have been the biggest factor in the game. That fact was not lost on Cal head coach Mike Montgomery.
"We did shoot 27 free throws, and really there is the difference," said Montgomery. "They make 16-of-28, we make 24-of-27, and we've been a good foul-shooting team all year long."
But the star of the game was Christopher.
It's games like this that make you wonder how he can go three games in a row without scoring in double-digits, as he did earlier in the season. On Thursday, however, he established a new career high with 29 points and scored six of Cal's final eight points in overtime.
After USC closed the gap to one point, Christopher took the ball out and after a split second looking to inbound, he threw the ball off a USC player's back, retrieved it and dribbled all but five seconds off the clock. He then completed his amazing night by sinking two free throws after he was fouled.
This win gives Cal a 21-7 record overall and marks their 10th win in the Pac-10 conference. It should be enough to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Bears are tied with Washington, Arizona St. and UCLA with 21 total wins and still have a chance to win the regular season conference title. That issue will go a long way to being decided this Saturday at 6 p.m. PT when the Bruins come to Haas Pavilion for a nationally televised match up.
After the final home game of the season this Saturday, Cal travels to face the Arizona schools that they swept in Berkeley earlier this year.
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