USC and California gave the season-high crowd of 7,412 at the Galen Center a show Thursday, with the Trojans beating the Golden Bears, 66-63, in a nail-biter highlighted by a 25-0 USC run and dominated by one player: Jerome Randle.
FOR THE RECORD:
USC-California basketball: An article about the Trojans' victory over Cal in the Feb. 5 Sports section said Dwight Lewis had become USC's all-time leader in games played, passing Brandon Glanville. The correct spelling of the player's last name is Granville. An article in the Feb. 4 Sports section contained the same misspelling. —
The California guard scored a game-high 29 points, but missed a three-pointer from the corner at the buzzer as a hushed crowd watched on.
"If he had made that, we would have been on 'SportsCenter,' " USC Coach Kevin O'Neill said after the game, laughing.
Randle turned the game into a street ball exhibition with a display of ankle-breaking crossover and hesitation dribbles that led to deep three-point field goals and in-the-lane floaters.
He made six of 12 from three-point range.
"I told him after the game, he's the best point guard I've ever guarded," said USC's Marcus Simmons, who shadowed Randle for most of the second half.
But it was USC's Mike Gerrity who made consecutive deep three-point shots that put USC up, 62-57 with 53 seconds left.
"[California] is sitting over there saying, he hasn't hit shots like that all year," O'Neill said of Gerrity.
California's Theo Robertson answered with a three-point jumper on the other end, and USC's Nikola Vucevic made four free throws in the final 10 seconds before the last shot by Randle.
"I've always wanted to be clutch," Vucevic said, recalling his youth when he used to watch Michael Jordan hit late-game shots.
With the win, USC (13-9 overall, 5-5 in Pacific 10 Conference) starts the back nine of its Pac-10 schedule with a birdie, and now sits one game out of first place.
That said, time is ticking: eight games left until O'Neill and his crew can schedule tee times while other teams prepare for postseason tournaments.
"It's a heck of a win for us," O'Neill said. "It really is."
More impressive than the win might have been USC's 25-0 run against the Bears, (14-8, 6-4), who entered the night tied for first place in the conference and still sit there even with the loss, tied with Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA.
USC trailed, 30-17. Then came the run that spanned 10:46 between the first and the second halves, and it ended with five points from Marcus Johnson to cap it with USC leading, 42-30.
O'Neill never thought such a run was possible for the team he often calls "offensively challenged."
"Not even [against] a group of you guys in shorts did I think we could outscore somebody 25 to nothing," he said, referring to the reporters in his postgame news conference.
After the jokes, he credited a smaller lineup, and Simmons' defense on Randle.
Dwight Lewis, who became USC's all-time leader in games played Thursday (125) by passing Brandon Glanville (1999-02), led USC with 13 points.
And not to be lost in the shuffle is college basketball's most infamous student manager, Stan Holt, who was fired and then-rehired in less than a week.
Holt, who was let go from the team Saturday after drawing a technical foul in USC's loss to Oregon, was reinstated Thursday afternoon.
"Everyone deserves a second chance," O'Neill said of the 30-year-old graduate student.