In almost every facet of the game, Cal beat USC fairly well. We shot better. We held onto the ball better. We outscored them in points to the paint despite their intimidating height advantage inside. Our zone defense gave us the lead early, and we overcame USC's final runs to take the lead for good late.
Harper Kamp held the imposing Nikola Vucevic to six points and won his one-on-one matchup handily, as he and Richard Solomon helped foul him out of the game. Brandon Smith stepped up for Jorge Gutierrez and the fading Allen Crabbe (who just doesn't play well in the second of back-to-backs) made his shots. Bak Bak brought Cal some quality minutes to fuel Cal to their early big lead. If not for Donte Smith channeling the spirit of Eddie House in the second half and nailing shots fit for a Harlem Globetrotter, the Bears would have run away with this game and taken it to victory.
And yet we nearly lost, because Cal did their best Sacramento Kings impression and nearly gagged that game away by missing free throw after free throw. Thanks to missed free throws, Kamp, Crabbe, Smith, Markhuri Sanders-Frison all ensured USC had a chance to win with a last shot, and Smith went into hero mode with 20 seconds on the shot clock up six with under a minute left. When Richard Solomon is your most clutch shooter at the line, we've got problems that'll make this team a hard watch in any close game.
So we won. It doesn't feel like a win, but it's a win. Everyone's going to see the W and realize we won our first game in the Galen Center ever. Meanwhile, I'll always remember those missed free throws and Smith nearly singlehandedly winning the game. I guess that's why team basketball is hard to appreciate--it's dirty and unglamorous, but efficient. Hopefully I'll feel it tomorrow.
3-4 through our hardest stretch of the season. I'll take it. Even a majority decision in boxing is still a win.