Missing 'D' costs Trojans a 'W'

Smith scores career-high 24 points, but USC falls to Cal in a game filled with controversial calls.

USC doesn't have many answers for the zone defense. After 20 games, that's a given.

But an inability to get stops is what troubled coach Kevin O'Neill after the Trojans' controversial 68-66 loss to Cal at Galen Center on Saturday night.

"It comes down to playing awful, awful defense for five straight minutes at the end when every time they threw in the post, they scored," O'Neill said.

The Golden Bears (10-9, 3-4 Pac-10) shot 54 percent in the second half, 45.1 percent for the game, but benefited from several controversial calls, including a missed charge Alex Stepheson took and shaky traveling against Garrett Jackson after pulling down a rebound.

But the biggest came on an intentional foul against guard Jio Fontan down the stretch. Fontan put forward Harper Kemp in a two-handed bear hug as he drove to the basket, but the call came only after a lengthy video review.

"Whether it was the right call or the wrong call, I don't know. It ended up being a big play in the game," O'Neill said. "They made the decision to go to the monitor and that's what they came back with."

Kemp, who scored a team-high 19 points, knocked down both free throws and Mark Sanders-Frison scored on the resulting possession, giving Cal a 62-57 lead with 2:48 to play.

Still, the Trojans (11-9, 3-4 Pac-10) had a chance to win the game in the final seconds, but Fontan missed a three-pointer off the front of the rim as time expired.

"We definitely had our chances, we had opportunities," O'Neill said. "We just didn't end up finishing the right way. It's unfortunate."

That they even had a chance was a credit to senior Donte Smith's career night.

Smith connected on 8 of 12 threes, scoring 24 points and leading a furious second-half charge.

At one point, Smith knocked down four consecutive threes, sparking USC to eventually take the lead.

Thanks largely to Smith, The Trojans shot 51.7 percent in the second half and finally cracked the zone defense.

It was a far cry from the start of the game, where USC made just 1 of its first 11 shots, allowed a 19-4 run over the final 6:31 and headed into the locker room trailing 30-22.

Further complicating matters was the ineffective play of forward Nikola Vucevic. The senior was hit in the mouth and cut his tongue, an injury O'Neill said took Vucevic out of the game.

"Let's face it, Nik was ineffective the whole night," O'Neill said of Vucevic. "(He) let that injury take him out completely."

The team's leading scorer, averaging 16.6 points per game, Vucevic finished with just 6 points and 10 rebounds.

"When he has a line like that, it's going to be difficult for us to win anything," O'Neill said.


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