California's Kevin Johnson was like a shifty runner in a broken field Monday night as he made the decisive points in the closing five seconds to provide his team with a 65-63 victory over USC at the Sports Arena.
With the score tied at 61-61, the 6-1 junior guard drove the lane to score, charging into USC's Tom Lewis in the process.
Lewis then went to the free-throw line in a one-and-one situation with five seconds to play and made both foul shots to tie the score at 63-63.
Johnson then weaved down the court again, threading his way into the lane. He tried to shoot just as time expired and was fouled by USC's Larry Friend.
So with no time left on the clock, Johnson went to the free-throw line needing only one foul shot to win the game for the Bears. He made the first one to settle the issue and added the second one for good measure.
No more than three points separated Cal and USC in their two meetings this year. The Bears won last month at Berkeley, 62-61, as USC's Bo Kimble missed a 15-foot jump shot that would have won the game in the final seconds.
By winning, Cal took over sole possession of third place in the Pacific 10 with an 8-6 record--and an opportunity for a possible NCAA berth, or an NIT bid. The Bears are 16-8 overall.
USC, which snapped a seven-game conference losing streak by beating UCLA on Saturday, shares the conference cellar with Oregon. Both teams have 4-11 records. The Trojans are 10-15 overall.
It's hindsight, but the Trojans probably should have fouled Johnson before he got into shooting range. However, if he had been fouled farther up court, the officials could have cited USC for an intentional foul, a two-shot violation. USC had only five team fouls at the time.
The lead continually changed hands in the second half, and the score was tied six times in the last seven minutes.
The Trojans had their last lead with 3:50 to play when center Rod Keller made a three-point play for a 59-57 advantage.
Cal then went ahead, 61-59, on medium-range jump shots by forwards Jeff Huling and Leonard Taylor. The Trojans countered on Kimble's baseline drive with 1:44 left.
Friend then stole a pass and, as USC set up for the go-ahead basket, Hank Gathers was fouled. The freshman center missed his first try on a one-and-one situation and, after a scramble for the rebound, Huling came up with it.
California called time out with 25 seconds remaining and, when play resumed, Johnson took over. On his last run, with only five seconds left, he covered almost the entire length of the court, 94 feet, like a sprinter.
It was a tense struggle in the second half, but USC's junior forward Derrick Dowell wasn't on the court. He picked up his third foul at halftime and didn't play again.
"I won't comment on why Derrick didn't play in the second half until Wednesday's media luncheon," USC Coach Stan Morrison said tersely.
Dowell didn't start the last two games against Stanford and UCLA because he was late to a practice session. He has missed or had been late to practice previously during the season.
He had also been in a scoring and rebounding slump until the UCLA game, when he was factor with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Dowell left quickly after the game and wasn't available for comment.
California Coach Lou Campanelli, who got a technical in the first half, probably would have gotten another one with 4:44 left. He put his hand to his throat with the choke sign when USC guard Rich Grande went to the free-throw line.
He was considerably animated during the game, yelling at the officials, but calm afterward.
"On the last play, we were in our spread," he said. "We throw the ball to David Butler, and then Kevin flies down the court and he got as good a shot as you can get. Kevin is good at the power dribble, and he drew a foul. He was definitely shooting, and it was a gutsy call."
Morrison contended that USC fouled Johnson before he attempted a shot in the final second.
"That's my disappointment," he said. "We worked for a foul and got no call. One official said it was a one-and-one, and if so, they'd take the ball out of bounds. But the late whistle was very obvious. In fact, I was very concerned that we would have been called for an intentional foul before Johnson's two-shot foul."
USC was led by Lewis, who got 16 of his 20 points in the first half on 6-of-11 shooting and Kimble, who contributed 16 points. Gathers had 11 points and 7 rebounds.
Taylor, who had averaged 21.7 points against USC in three previous games, was in foul trouble in the second half. Still, he scored 17 points. Butler had 12 and Johnson finished with 10--four points in the final five seconds.
"I thought we got tired," Morrison said. "They zinged some passes, and we were a little slow getting back on defense. But I really liked our effort. We kept our heads in it. The critical thing at the end was free-throw shooting. They made their's, and we didn't."
For the game, Cal was only 9 of 15 from the line, while USC was 17 of 26.