BERKELEY — USC's Dave Wiltz, who had lost his starting point guard job to Rich Grande, provided the Trojans with an improbable 58-56 double-overtime victory over California Wednesday night at Pete Newell Court.
Wiltz, who had previously made only 10 of 26 free throws, converted two foul shots with 13 seconds left as the struggling Trojans snapped out of their losing slump.
It was only USC's second win of the season in nine games, and Coach George Raveling said that Santa Claus had an early Christmas present for his team.
So the Trojans, after losing six nonconference games, are 1-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference, getting a split in the Bay Area.
USC was routed, 88-62, by Stanford Monday night at Palo Alto.
Raveling reasoned that Cal, now 4-3 overall, was still celebrating its upset victory over UCLA Monday night and was overlooking the Trojans.
The Trojans changed their offensive strategy Wednesday night. Instead of shooting quickly, they were patient and worked time off the 45-second clock before shooting.
Raveling said that he played Wiltz strictly on a hunch in the two overtime sessions.
"After he (Wiltz) came off the floor in the first overtime, he gave me a look as if to say, 'Coach, give me a chance. I'll get it done for you.' "
Wiltz, who was academically ineligible most of last season, raised his arms in jubilation after he made his first free throw, running to half court in his excitement. Then, he dropped in the second shot.
He had gone to the line after being fouled by Cal center Hartmut Ortmann.
The Bears still had a chance to tie, or win on a three-point shot. They went for the bundle.
Forward Matt Beeuwsaert cast off from just past the three-point line with two seconds remaining, but the shot was just off line.
"It was like a perfect script because I have the worst average (38.5%) from the free-throw line on the team," Wiltz said. "Coach had stressed how we were letting ourselves out of games because we weren't hitting our free throws.
"Once the balls left my hand, I knew they'd drop. I just felt very sure of myself."
After USC lost to Stanford, Raveling blamed himself for his team's struggling start, adding that he might have misjudged the talent.
There was no blame assessed Wednesday night.
It was a strange game inasmuch as USC moved out to a 16-4 lead at the outset, only to have Cal out-score the Trojans, 22-4, to take a 26-20 halftime lead.
The Bears continued to surge in the second half, building to a 13-point lead, 37-24, with 13:30 remaining.
Then, the Trojans came back on the three-point shooting of guard Brad Winslow. Winslow made 4 of his 7 three-pointers in the second half.
Last season, it was Winslow's accurate three-point shooting that almost provided USC with a win over Cal here.
Wednesday night, it was a game of missed opportunities for both teams.
At the end of regulation, with 13 seconds left and USC trailing, 49-47, Grande wasn't able to inbound the ball in the required five seconds.
Cal couldn't take advantage of that lapse, though, as it committed the same mistake.
USC then frantically tried to catch up. Guard Anthony Pendleton missed, and guard Andy Olivarez couldn't put the ball down on a rebound before Winslow's tip-in shot dropped through the net with four seconds to play.
More unusual happenings.
Cal inbounded the ball, but the clock malfunctioned, with the buzzer halting play just as guard Keith Smith missed from long range.
After some debate, the clock was reset with three seconds left in regulation. Then, Cal guard Bryant Walton's 20-foot shot rimmed the basket before going out.
So the teams went into the first overtime tied, 49-49.
Forward Chris Moore provided USC with its first lead since the first half when he made a 13-foot jump shot in the lane.
Beeuwsaert got Cal even, 51-51, with a medium-range jump shot with 3:21 left in the first overtime.
That was the extent of the scoring. Cal had the last scoring opportunity of that overtime. But Smith missed, and forward Jim Beatie's tip wouldn't go down.
Smith quickly put Cal ahead, 53-51, in the second overtime with a tip-in basket. Wiltz countered with an awkward jump shot off the glass with 3:13 remaining.
Beeuwsaert sank two foul shots to give Cal a 55-53 lead with 2:19 remaining. However, Moore's three-point play lifted USC into a 56-55 advantage with 1:34 left.
Smith tied the score, making one of two free throws. Then, while USC was possession of the ball, Winslow fouled Beeuwsaert, the former Mater Dei High School star and a transfer from Notre Dame.
Beeuwsaert had been an accurate foul shooter earlier (78% for the season) and was 7 for 11 for the game. But he missed on the front end of a 1-and-1 and Moore got the rebound.
The Trojans called a time out with 27 seconds left. When play resumed, Ortmann tripped Wiltz. Then, a junior college transfer from New Orleans, came through with his game-winning free throws.
"We just didn't play well enough to win," Cal Coach Lou Campanelli said. "Southern Cal came to play, and we didn't make the plays necessary to win."
As usual, Raveling substituted frequently, using all of his 12 players. Winslow, who was only 1 for 7 from the field against Stanford, finished with 16 points.
The Trojans, who had been shooting only 41% from the field, were 52.2% compared to Cal's 39.6%.
It was USC's first win over a Division I school this season. The Trojans had previously beaten Seattle, a National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics school.