It sounded like an ugly start at the Galen Center. Despite having a depleted roster, the USC Trojans have one of the best defensive squads in the conference and like to slow things down to turn games into a grating and grinding affair.
With most of the starters matching the coma ward atmosphere, it was Allen Crabbe who carried the torch. He started 5/5 and kept the Bears in it despite an early 8-6 deficit, and foul trouble for Harper Kamp. Naturally, 'SC's Maurice Jones saved his hot shooting just for us. But, Crabbe continued to match him shot for shot. At the ten minute mark, Cal maintained a slight lead at 17-16.
With Smith, Behrens, and Thurman getting early run, the Trojans came alive offensively and made a run to lead 23-19. But when their do-everything oompa loompa Jones picked up his 2nd foul, Cal responded with a run of its own to retake the lead, 27-23 with three minutes to play. Although the Bears weren't shooting it well, they seized several extra possessions by pounding the offensive glass. Kravish was particularly active in using his length to tip the ball to himself or to his teammates. Bak got in late and made an impact with six quick points.
It didn't sound like Cal played particularly well, but somehow managed to extend to a 35-29 lead at half thanks to a last minute steal and breakaway by Jorge. If you had told me that Cal's seniors would be largely quiet and we'd still have a lead at half, I'd take it. As hot as Crabbe was from the field, Kravish had his best rebounding half of the year with 10 boards, many of them on the offensive end. Although the Bears struggled again to check Maurice Jones on defense, they were clearly targeting him on offense and forced him to sit with foul trouble.
The second half started about as well as one could hope as Maurice Jones picked up his third foul by hacking Cobbs on a three-point attempt. With Jones forced to sit due to an injured hand incurred on the Cobbs' foul, the Bears had a golden opportunity to seize control of the game. Leave it to the battle-tested veteran, Harper Kamp, to know when to assert himself. He scored six consecutive points to build Cal's lead to 10 with sixteen to play.
Crabbe poured it on with a corner three after a monstrous block and look ahead by Jorge. With Kravish dominating the defensive glass, Kamp continued to abuse the hapless Trojans with six more points for a 17 point lead at the thirteen minute mark.
An 18-4 run? More, please.
USC brought back Maurice Jones who tried to stop the bleeding by making a tough left-handed runner. But, the Bears were relentless. Cobbs fed Crabbe for an And-One. Then, Kamp cut without the ball and laid it in off the nice feed from Cobbs. To return the favor, on the next possession Kamp promptly found Cobbs free for a three. Just like that, it was a 21 point lead. And one can only imagine the various colors and vein-popping present in Trojan Coach Kevin O'Neill's forehead.
The two teams sparred back and forth for several minutes. But, Cal refused to give up the lead and maintained a twenty-one point advantage with seven minutes and change to play. Bak provided a spark off the bench in limited minutes, then gave way to Robert Thurman who continued to show off a deft touch in the post. Erasing the sour memory of a rough outing against 'Zona, Smith played a turnover-free game and dropped a sick dime to Kravish. Moments later, Brandon jumped the passing lane for a steal and raced ahead for the layup to build the lead all the way to 25.
When Alex Rossi checked in at the next stop, you knew that the Bears had carried the day. Minutes later, Monty sent in the new human victory cigar and checked in Raffi Chalian in front of his cheering family.
With Jorge quiet on offense, and Kamp saddled in early foul trouble, it was promising that the younger and less-heralded players stepped up. Kravish went absolutely Beast Mode by grabbing 18 boards. Bak, Thurman, Behrens, and Smith all made an impact during their minutes.
Perhaps sensing that he needed to assert himself, Crabbe carried us in the 1st half and finished with 19 points. Cobbs played under control and did a much better job facilitating the offense. When Kamp was able to tag back in for the 2nd half run, it was obvious that USC had no answer for him. He scored 18 points and came within a point of notching 1000 for his career.
Give credit to Monty for relentlessly attacking Maurice Jones on offense. Although the annoyingly good mighty mite sounded like he had it going again, he was largely nullified by foul trouble and by being a defensive liability.
It didn't sound like the ideal start, but the game followed Cal's script; a decisive victory where the starters weren't run into the ground and the bench was able to build some confidence.
There's nothing wrong with a season sweep of the Trojans. While we're at it, let's go ahead and sweep both SoCal schools. Bring on the Bruins.