Nikola Knezevic won't register much on this statsheet; it'll look like your typical Nikola game really. Not many points, one ugly looking three pointer, two points, one rebound. Ho-hum, right?
Well, here's why it was something more: Patrick Christopher was getting killed by Dwight Lewis. Defensively PC was stymied (2-7 from the field, 6 points, barely an offensive threat), and offensively Lewis always found a way to get his shot on him, whether by getting to the rim or shooting a J in stride. He was struggling all night, and really had no feel or rhythm to his game all night. The Bears needed a spark at the two spot, and Jorge wasn't there to provide it.
Enter Nikola. Doing a pretty nice Jorge impression, he managed to chase Lewis all over the floor, stay close up on him and fluster him to such a crazy degree that the Trojan guard lost all offensive focus, threw up tough shots, turned the ball over on a crucial possession, and USC's offense finally came undone. Big ups to Nikola--without his defense there's a pretty good chance we get embarrassingly swept off our homecourt by the LA schools.
After the jump, we look at the bigger picture of this weekend and what the split means.
All in all, a tough, hard fought split. The Bears lost a game they shouldn't have lost Wednesday night, but rebounded and manned up against a much more dominant foe. People shouldn't be angry that the Bears offense struggled so hard against USC's defense...this is a STRONG defensive unit. Cal was tentative at first trying to get through all this, made mistakes early in the halves trying to figure out how to deal with the athleticism (solution: attack the basket). On the defensive side, I didn't see too much slippage outside of Lewis's performance and MSF getting posted up over and over (Zhang actually spelled him pretty well)--USC happened to nail every shot through the first 75% of the game to keep things close before they went cold.
Individually, outside of Nikola, Jerome Randle outclassed Mike Gerrity, Theo had another fantastic all-around game (offensive rating of 139 and hauled in 7 rebounds), Sanders-Frison didn't show much post defense but did make two huge jump shots. Add in an attacking mentality on offense (24 free throws to USC's 5), and the Bears played like the more desperate team late. This is what you like to see after an embarrassing loss--when you're playing a defensive-minded team like the Trojans, the win is all you want; the bonus being an eight point win against these guys feels like twenty.
Onto the Northwest, where the Bears will need more than grit to manage a repeat of their surprising sweep last year. If Jorge is out, everyone will need to be at the peak of their powers to survive Pullman and Seattle.