Nikola Jovanovic led the way with 20 points and nine rebounds while Julian Jacobs scored a career-high 17 points and dished out five assists in McLaughlin’s place. Cal’s Tyrone Wallace led all scorers with 21 points, but he needed 21 shots to reach that number. Jordan Mathews also added 17 points for the Golden Bears while Katin Reinhardt scored 16 for USC.
-- BREAKING IT DOWN --Key moment(s): Taking Advantage. Coming off a pair of blowout losses on the road, the USC players called this game a must-win. And the most important thing the Trojans needed to do was to get off to a strong start — something they did not do at all their last time out against Colorado. Both teams Wednesday night traded baskets early in the game until USC took control of the game with a 13-0 run to pull ahead 17-6.
The Trojans pushed the lead to 15 points in the first half and no matter what run Cal tried to put together, USC always had an answer. It never let the Golden Bears get closer than six points and held a double-digit lead the final nine and a half minutes of the game.
Finishing Positive. The one time Cal did trim the lead down to six points happened in the final three minutes of the first half. The Golden Bears went on a 9-2 run that cut the lead down to 35-29 with 1:23 left in the half and had the momentum after a trio of 3-pointers — two from Jordan Mathews. But that’s when sophomore Julian Jacobs stepped up and took control of the game.
On back-to-back possessions, Jacobs attacked the basket and was fouled. He made three of his four free throws and the Trojans played tough defense, forcing contested 3-pointers from Dwight Tarwater and Wallace that did not go down. Instead of Cal being able to close out the half strong and get right back in the mix, Jacobs final three points pushed USC’s lead back up to nine and gave the Trojans a positive heading into the locker room.
Player of the Game: Julian Jacobs. Julian Jacobs was superb stepping into the lineup for McLaughlin and taking over the point guard duties once again. Jacobs had his best game as a Trojan.
"I'll just say that I was ultra-aggressive and it worked out for the best," Jacobs said.
He relentlessly attacked the middle of the Golden Bears' defense and scored a career-high 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting while also dishing out five assists.
“I thought he played great on both sides of the ball,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “He really competed…17 points, 5 assists, but it was his energy as well as his productivity.”
Enfield also said Jacobs "was great defensively.” That’s high praise considering Jacobs was often locked up with Cal leading scorer Tyrone Wallace, who did score 21 points, but needed 21 shots to do so.
Post-Game Player(s) Interview: Player of the Game Julian Jacobs and fellow sophomore Nikola Jovanovic discuss the Trojans’ first Pac-12 victory of the season:
Most Spectacular Play(s): Passing Lane Plundering. One of the things Andy Enfield wants from his defense is steals that lead to fast breaks. Enfield wants his guards to be able to shoot the passing lanes and be able to swipe a few passes. Katin Reinhardt did just that on a pair of possessions early in the Trojans’ 13-0 early first half surge.
On the first play, Cal tried to get the ball into senior big man David Kravish on the block. But Nikola Jovanovic did a good job of keeping Kravis from establishing strong post position deep in the lane. Instead, Kravish received the entry pass on the wing and went toward the short corner. USC immediately trapped him with Malik Marquetti coming over to help Jovanovic.
When he finally felt the pressure, Kravish tried to jump and pass the ball back to the top of the key, but Reinhardt jumped in front of the pass and took it the other way. Using a Euro step, Reinhardt cut across the lane in front of Jordan Mathews and laid in a finger roll on the left side of the rim.
On the next trip down, Cal went deep in the shot clock passing the ball around the perimeter and tried to get the ball to Mathews coming off a screen on the left wing, but once again, Reinhardt used his quickness to crash the passing lane, knock the ball loose and pick it up heading toward USC’s basket. Reinhardt got fouled on the second breakaway, but as the Trojans did all night, he sank both of his free throws and suddenly USC had a lead that it soon would expand to double digits by forcing five Cal turnovers in the 13-0 run.
Unsung Hero: Malik Martin. The Florida freshman continues to show improvement game after game now that he is back healthy from the bone contusion he suffered on his knee earlier in the season. Martin finished with eight points and five rebounds. He shot the ball well, making all four of his two-point attempts and he was a force on the defensive end blocking three shots — a new career high.
Martin did take a bad 3-pointer early in the shot clock after an offensive rebound with five minutes to go (and Andy Enfield was not happy about it at all). So there continue to be some growing pains, which is to be expected with so many young players, but when Martin is playing hard, good things are happening for the Trojans. In fact, Enfield and his teammates have said that’s the key for the athletic 6-foot-11 big man.
“He just has to play hard,” Enfield said. “Tonight, he played great. He gave energy. He rebounded the ball, used his length, he blocked three shots. He helped on ball screens; he helped on curl cuts. He scored eight points in the first half. That’s what we recruited him for and that’s what we expect. He’s got to work. Everyday in the gym, he’s got to get better and I think if he continues to have that mentality, he should be a really good player by the end of the year.
"Step It Up:" Elijah Stewart. The Trojans need another scorer on the wing, particularly with Jordan McLaughlin out. Stewart is a guy that could easily fill that role, but he has struggled for the last two and a half weeks since having a monster game at Boston College. Against the Eagles, Stewart was a perfect 10-for-10 and scored a career-high 22 points. He missed his next 13 field goal attempts and is a combined 2-for-23 from the field and has scored 10 points in four games since BC.
Post-Game Coach Interview: Andy Enfield talks about his team learning to play with Pac-12 intensity and how Julian Jacobs stepped up:
Key stat(s): 8. Despite not having starting point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who missed his second straight game with a separated shoulder, the Trojans turned the ball over only eight times, including just three in the second half.
85.0. USC shot a season-best 85 percent (17-for-20) from the free throw line Wednesday night. How rare was that? The Trojans hadn't shot better than 70 percent from the charity stripe all season!
35.4. The Trojans held Cal to 35.4 percent shooting. The defensive intensity was significantly better than the first two Pac-12 games when USC let Utah and Colorado shot a combined 56 percent from the floor, including 53 percent from deep. Cal finished 4-for-20 from beyond the arc.
>10. For the fourth time this season, USC turned the ball over less than 10 times. The Trojans are now 4-0 when they have single-digit turnovers.
4. Darion Clark had a stellar “quiet” game. Despite having only five points on 1-of-4 shooting, he grabbed seven rebounds, including three on the offensive end, picked up a steal, knocked down three of his four free throws — an area that he has struggled with all season — and he also dished out a career-high four assists. The Trojans interior passing was really good throughout the game and that’s how they were able to defeat Cal’s zone defense since the outside shooting wasn’t there once again.
20, 9. Nikola Jovanovic put together another solid performance down low with 20 points and nine rebounds and has really solidified himself as a stalwart on the block. The Trojans expected this type of performance night in and night out, but didn’t get it at the beginning of the season. But Jovanovic has finally turned things on.
10. Nikola Jovanovic has now scored in double figures in ten consecutive games.
50. Nikola Jovanovic shot below 50 percent in each of the first seven games this season. He has at or above 50 percent in all eight games since.
Quote(s) of the Night:
“We played two really good teams on the road in tough places to play and we didn’t play particularly well on either side of the ball. A lot of it had to do with us…We really focused on defensive principles and playing with more intensity and figuring out what Pac-12 basketball is all about. Our freshmen were a little shocked with the atmosphere and were shocked by the intensity of play. Tonight, we did have that intensity.” — USC head coach Andy Enfield
Where They Stand: The Trojans are now 9-6 on the season and 1-2 in conference play. But is this game an apparition or a sign of positive change? We'll find out more when Stanford comes in on Sunday at 7 p.m. PST. The Cardinal are undefeated in conference, including a come-from-behind win over Washington last Sunday that saw Chasson Randle make a driving layup with less than three seconds remaining to send the game to overtime.
Spotted: USC Athletic Director Pat Haden watched the game from the sidelines, but before the game, he met at center court with Jordan McLaughlin and chatted with the injured freshman.
Speaking of McLaughlin, he was spotted, in uniform, warming up with the team and going through the normal layup and shooting drills pre-game before the team went to the locker room. But when the Trojans emerged, McLaughlin had changed into street clothes and sat on the end of the bench with injured junior Brendyn Taylor. Not on the bench was sophomore guard Kahlil Dukes, who missed the game with the flu.
In the stands, there was a familiar face for NBA fans. Former Gonzaga Bulldog Ronny Turiaf was in attendance, sitting courtside. Turiaf, who was drafted by and spent three seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, played two games with the Minnesota Timberwolves early this season, but had to have arthroscopic hip surgery and is out for the season.