BERKELEY — Even though USC trailed California by one point with only a few seconds remaining in the game, Stan Morrison said the circumstances were perfect.
His Trojans had the ball, worked for a good shot and got it--only to have freshman guard Bo Kimble miss a 17-footer as Cal held on to win, 62-61, Wednesday night at Harmon Gym.
It was a comeback that just fell short for the Trojans, who were nine points down with a little less than eight minutes remaining and had been playing catch-up virtually the entire game.
Cal is regarded by some as a contender for the Pacific 10 title, so USC gained a measure of respect even in losing. The Bears are 4-2 in the conference and 12-4 overall, while the Trojans are 3-4 and 8-8.
USC got its opportunity to win at the end when Cal guard Kevin Johnson missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw with 25 seconds to play. The odds favored Johnson because he's an 85% foul shooter.
Derrick Dowell got the rebound for the Trojans, who begin to probe the Cal defense, looking for the best possible shot.
Rich Grande, a freshman, was the playmaking guard at the time, having replaced Larry Friend, who had fouled out.
"We wanted Rich to get the ball to Derrick, Bo or Tom Lewis," Morrison said.
As it was, Lewis, another freshman, got the ball and drew a crowd. He passed the ball back to Kimble, who got off his shot with three seconds remaining. The ball hit the rim and bounced away.
"I probably should have taken it to the hole," Kimble said. "I thought it was a last-second shot. I didn't know there were three or four seconds left. But I wouldn't have had time to pass the ball."
Morrison: "I really thought we were going to win, and even when Bo missed, Dowell and Hank Gathers got their hands on the ball but couldn't hold it. It was really a hot potato."
Morrison had no quarrel with the way the final play unfolded, and Kimble was obviously the man who should have taken the shot.
The quick 6-4 guard from Philadelphia harassed the Cal defense with his outside shooting. He made 9 of 12 shots, finishing with 18 points.
However, the Trojans couldn't contain Leonard Taylor, Cal's 6-8 sophomore forward, who carried his team, especially in the second half. Taylor, from St. Bernard High, was effective inside, scoring on short jump and follow shots. He wound up with 28 points, making all 10 of his free throw attempts. USC had five more field goals than Cal, but the Bears made 20 of 27 from the foul line, while USC made only 9 of 16. It was a bigger disparity in the first half, when the Trojans missed on their two attempts from the line, while the Bears were 9 for 10.
"I thought the key factor in the game was Cal's ability to go to the line in the first half," Morrison said. "That's not a complaint about the officiating. It was just our inability to stop them inside and our inability to go inside at the other end."
The Trojans kept closing in on Cal in the second half, then the Bears would spurt away. USC cut Cal's lead to 43-39 just 4 1/2 minutes into the second half after trailing by 11 points.
Cal then moved out to a nine-point lead, but the Trojans surged again. Lewis, who brought a 19-point scoring average into the game, hit from an angle as USC closed to 62-59 with 1:15 left.
Cal guard Chris Washington, who had problems containing Kimble, then went to the free throw line in a one-and-one situation. He missed his first attempt and then Lewis tied up Taylor for a jump ball.
The Trojans got the ball, though, on the alternating possession rule.
Then, Friend threw a perfect pass to Lewis, who got free for a layup with only 32 seconds left. Friend fouled out a few seconds later, and Johnson missed his free throw to set up the climactic finish.
Kimble was slightly off balance when he took the final shot, and Cal Coach Lou Campanelli credited his defense for forcing the USC freshman to shoot hurriedly.
"It was the best man-to-man defense we've played in the last 25 seconds," Campanelli said. "They had to force an outside shot, an off-balance jumper on a tough mismatch."
He was referring to the 6-4 Kimble shooting over Washington, who is 6-1.
It's just a matter of viewpoint. Morrison liked the way the final play was set up; Campanelli said his defense forced the miss.
Last year, USC won eight of nine conference games on the road en route to the co-championship of the Pac-10. Now, with a younger team, the Trojans have a road record of 0-3 in the league and 1-6 overall.
Cal seems to thrive at home with an 8-0 record, although the Bears got a scare Wednesday night.
Dowell didn't start for the Trojans because he had missed part of a practice during the week. But he played 31 minutes, and Morrison credited him with bringing the Trojans back from big deficits.
Dowell finished with 17 points, on 5-of-8 shooting, while grabbing 10 rebounds, three fewer than Taylor.
Lewis, the much-publicized high school star from Mater Dei, had problems in the first half. He missed on five attempts from the field, but he was a factor near the end and wound up with eight points.
Johnson, Cal's quick playmaker, who had been averaging 19.4 points in league games, wasn't a factor. He got into foul trouble and had only six points.
So, it was another road experience for Morrison's young team, playing before a hostile, sellout crowd of 6,600 in an old, hot gym. The Trojans came close, though, right down to the final shot.