Jordan McLaughlin had already banked in a half court shot at the halftime buzzer. USC's veteran point guard had raced down court to beat the buzzer with a layup at halftime of the Stanford game earlier in the week. To cap the non-conference schedule, he drove into the lane and made a lefty layup with 4.5 seconds left in overtime to beat Wyoming for the Las Vegas Classic championship.
So after California forward Ivan Rabb made a pair of free throws to put the Golden Bears ahead by a point with 5.2 seconds remaining, everyone knew USC's junior captain was getting the ball.
"At the timeout, we drew up just me coming off, getting a full head of steam," McLaughlin said. "I was just driving to the basket, trying to get a layup."
McLaughlin crossed over at halfcourt, weaving through traffic and attacked the basket from the left wing. There was contact with Cal wing Jabari Bird inside the paint, but McLaughlin was still able to get up a shot.
"Hopefully, they called a foul, but you know, I saw a wide open lane. They all closed at the last second."
Rabb came across to deny McLaughlin's game winning attempt with a clean swat.
"There was a lot of contact at the rim on his drive," USC head coach Andy Enfield said. "He got bumped and there was no call. Five and a half seconds left, you can't ask for more then for an all-league point guard to drive down the court, get bumped twice and have contact at the rim.
"He could have easily scored the ball or gone to the foul line, but he didn't."
McLaughlin finished with his fourth 20-point game of the season, but it is the five points he left on the free throw line -- where he went 3 for 8 -- he will lament. As a team, USC shot just 47.6 percent (10 for 21) on its free throw attempts. It was the only place the Trojans struggled to shoot all night. They shot 50.9 percent from the floor, including making 58.3 percent of their three-pointers.
"We shot terribly from the foul line," Enfield said. "When you shoot 51 percent from the field and 58 from the three, that's pretty good. They're a great defensive team, but I thought our guys took good shots all night. We attacked the rim, got to the foul line and made some open jump shots."
Rabb led the Golden Bears with 17 points on 6 of 10 shooting. He also had eight rebounds, three steals, two assists and two blocks. Freshman point guard Charlie Moore added 15 points on 6 of 8 attempts as Cal shot 47.5 percent for the game.
Chimezie Metu also scored 20 points for USC. Freshman De'Anthony Melton filled up the stat sheet once more, scoring 13 points with seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks.
Here's three takeaways from USC's 74-73 loss to the Golden Bears Sunday night:
Draft Pick Battle
Against the long and lanky bigs of Oregon, USC forward Chimezie Metu struggled to his worst game of the season. He shot 1 for 12 and scored just four points, leading some to comment that game should be evidence that he definitely needs another year of seasoning before even considering a leap to the NBA.
On Sunday, Metu answered back.
The 6-foot-11 Trojan went toe to toe with fellow sophomore and likely lottery pick Ivan Rabb, helping to get Cal's star forward in second half foul trouble. The two big men produced similar stat lines while showcasing midrange jumpers and an ability to finish at the rim.
Metu scored 20 points on 9 of 15 shooting and had six rebounds. He also added two assists, two steals and a block. Rabb scored 17 points on 6 of 10 shooting with eight rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocks.
USC's big man stepped up and was emotionally charged, especially during a first half stretch that saw him score 10 straight Trojan points as they went to him five consecutive possessions. After the final two buckets, he demonstratively celebrated with primal screams as he ran back down the court.
Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin said Metu surprised him with the shots he made: "He's a very talented kid."
Rabb displayed improved range, making his fourth 3-pointer of Pac-12 play after not making one in the non-conference schedule. He also came up clutch, making the final two free throws of the game, tying the score and giving Cal the lead.
"That's what the Pac-12 is all about," Andy Enfield said. "You have good players on each team. Chimezie we rely on him and they rely on Rabb and he just happened to score the last two points."
Trouble Down Low
Ivan Rabb had nine of his 17 points in the first half when California was dominating USC down low. The Golden Bears seven-footer duo of Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh were able to push around the Trojans' smaller front line helping Cal score 22 points in the paint in the first half. Rooks and Okoroh combined for half of Cal's 10 offensive rebounds that led to 12 second-chance points in the first half.
"Their offensive rebounds were key," Jordan McLaughlin said. "They led to a couple of 'and-ones' I believe and just extra opportunities for them to score."
In the second half, USC clamped down and only allowed two offensive boards, but both led to three pointers -- a six-point swing due to extra chances. California finished the game with a 35-28 margin in the rebounding battle and also outscored USC, 36-24, in the paint.
Part of the issue is the Trojans' lack of depth in the front court with Bennie Boatwright injured and that becomes more prominent when Nick Rakocevic or Charles Buggs gets in foul trouble. Buggs continued his fouling struggles picking up two quick fouls in the first half and finishing with three fouls in just seven minutes of game action. He is now being whistled for a foul every 3.25 minutes of game action in Pac-12 play.
Jordan McLaughlin entered the game shooting 83.8 percent from the free throw line, including 88.9 percent in the first three conference games. He is the Trojans' go-to guy to get to the line in a late-game situation, but in the final minute with USC trailing by a point, he clanked both of his final pair of free throws.
He eventually made the go-ahead layup, but Ivan Rabb, a 62.7 percent free throw shooter entering the game, knocked down both of his free throws with 5.2 seconds left and blocked McLaughlin's driving attempt in the final seconds.
McLaughlin finished the game just 3 for 8 from the free throw line. He had missed just five free throws combined in the last nine games and had missed multiple free throws in a game in more than a month -- when he went 7 for 9 against BYU on Dec. 3.
"When a guy's shooting over 80 percent goes 3 for 8 from the foul line, I can't explain that. I don't have all the answers," Enfield said.
The Trojans had shot better than 80 percent in five of their last seven games. On Sunday night, they missed 11 of their 21 attempts at the charity stripe.
"It was just one of those nights. We always practice free throw shooting. It was just one of those nights for us tonight at the line. That's basically where we lost the game."
USC will try to bounce back next week in the mountains. The Trojans head to Utah on Thursday at 6 p.m. PST. The Utes (11-4, 2-1) have been a different team since adding transfers David Collette and Sedrick Barefield, who became eligible after the first semester. The duo is averaging a combined 28.3 points and each have the ability to give USC fits. In fact, Collette has done just that before. He scored 32 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in a loss to the Trojans when he was playing at Utah State as a freshman. Last time out, Kyle Kuzma produced his seventh double-double of the season in an 88-82 win over Arizona State, including a career-high 26 points.
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