Feb. 17, 2011
BERKELEY (AP) - Maurice Jones didn't take it personal when USC coach Kevin O'Neill took him out of the starting lineup for the first time this season.
The Trojans' diminutive freshman shrugged off being benched and came back to score 22 points, all in the second half, and Southern California held off a late surge by California to win 78-75 on Thursday night.
"I came off the bench in high school so it's really no difference," Jones said. "(O'Neill) said he saw something that he thought might work and help us so I was with it. As long as he said I was still going to play the same minutes, it didn't really make a difference."
Jones had started the Trojans first 25 games and was third on the team in scoring until a recent shooting slump dropped his average considerably.
That's why O'Neill opted to replace Jones in the lineup with Donte Smith. It couldn't have worked out better for USC, which had lost four of six before snapping its three-game losing streak at Haas Pavilion.
"We did enough down the stretch to win," O'Neill said. "We're fortunate to get the win but we'll take it. We had a great performance by Jones. He did a heck of a job keeping their comeback back by scoring a bunch of points. We need him to do that all the times."
Jones, mired in an 11-for-37 slump in his previous five games, went 7 of 13 from the floor and had a season-high five 3-pointers.
Nikola Vucevic had 21 points and 10 rebounds and Alex Stephenson scored 10 to help USC (14-12, 6-7 Pac-10) win for just the third time in its last seven games.
Markhuri Sanders-Frison scored 23 points for California (13-13, 6-8), which lost its fourth straight despite nearly rallying from 11 points down in the final two minutes.
"It's kind of discouraging," Golden Bears coach Mike Montgomery said. "Jones got it going. He shot kind of a knuckleball from far out and it went in. We just didn't do a good job of getting out to him."
Tempers flared late when Cal's Jorge Gutierrez and Smith had to be separated after Gutierrez was called for a hard foul near the sidelines. Players for both teams stood on the court for several minutes while referees conferred before slapping Gutierrez and Smith with technical fouls.
Marcus Simmons then made one of two free throws from Gutierrez's intentional foul to give USC a 72-65 lead with 1:06 remaining.
Cal nearly came all the way back.
Sanders-Frison scored 10 straight points, including a 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds left that cut the gap to 76-75. Vucevic was fouled on the ensuing inbounds play and made both free throws to seal the win for USC. Cal was unable to get off a final shot.
The Trojans lost to the Bears 68-66 when the teams met Jan. 22 and hadn't done much right since. They won at Arizona State to stop a five-game road losing streak in the Pac-10, then dropped three of their next four to fall out of contention.
Jones' big night didn't erase all those bad memories but he did give the Trojans a much-needed lift.
"He was unstoppable, just unstoppable in that stretch," said Stephenson, who added 11 rebounds. "He does that in practice. There's nothing you can do about it. They made a great run but we weathered it."
The victory against Cal snapped USC's three-game losing streak at Haas Pavilion and marked only the fourth time in their last 19 trips to Berkeley that the Trojans have won.
They did it with a defense that held the Bears to six field goals in the first half.
Cal had almost twice as many free throws (nine) as it did baskets in the first half until Richard Solomon's dunk off an offensive rebound with 2.1 seconds left cut USC's lead to 33-22 at the half.
Vucevic, leading the Pac-10 in rebounding for a second straight year, had 12 points and seven boards in the first half, but it was the Trojans' quickness on defense that made the biggest difference. USC held Cal to four offensive rebounds and outscored the Bears 15-2 on fast breaks and second-chance opportunities.
Cal fought back within 40-39 early in the second half before Jones' barrage. The freshman, held scoreless in the first half, made three consecutive 3-pointers and scored 13 straight points for USC at one point. Jones later drove the lane, then fed Vucevic for an easy layup, and added his fifth 3-pointer to make it 62-49.
Jones later made three free throws and Simmons added one from the stripe to make it 72-65 before Sanders-Frison's late surge nearly helped Cal overcome the deficit.
Former Cal star and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson sat courtside.