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January 23, 2011

Bears squeak out two-point win to salvage split

LOS ANGELES -- Two Mr. Smith's went to town on Saturday night, but only one could come out on top. While USC's Donte Smith -- a senior out of Pomona, Calif. -- scored a game-high 24 points and hammered home eight three-pointers, it was Cal's Brandon Smith who lifted his team to victory - shooting 4-for-7 from the floor and 2-of-2 from three to score 12 points en route to a 68-66 Bears win.

"The Smiths were on tonight," laughed Cal's sophomore point guard, who scored the game's first five points. "It was the Smith Show, I guess, but it got kind of frustrating, because I wanted to guard him and just get a hand up, but we made the play in the end, and that's what counts."

Despite his gaudy numbers, when the game was on the line, Donte Smith committed two fouls in the final 30 seconds and allowing Cal some much-needed breathing room for its first road win in the last three tries.

"We've been competitive in every game against good teams in Arizona and UCLA and now here, and all three are games that you really could have won, if you make a play or two late," said Bears head coach Mike Montgomery. "We got a lot of mileage out of the big lineup early in the zone in the first half, and they really hard a hard time with it and that really helped us."

This one was far from easy for the Bears (10-9, 3-4 in the Pac-10). After coming back from an eight-point deficit in the first half to go into the break up by 10, Cal watched as Donte Smith sunk 5-of-6 threes in the first 11 minutes of the second half, helping to bring the Trojans (11-9, 3-4) back to within one point with 8:57 left in the game.

"In the second half, they made an adjustment," Montgomery said. "Kevin (O'Neil) did a good job and spread us out, and Donte Smith started lighting it up. We didn't do a very good job of getting out to him and so all of the sudden, (zone) wasn't working, so we went back into man, because we felt they were scoring against us every time against the zone because they had us so spread out. Then, we went back to man and did a better job, except for Smith."

Donte Smith wasn't the only one filling it up from beyond the arc. After the break, USC as a team hit 7-of-10 over the first 13:28 of the second half to finally take a 52-50 lead with 7:32 remaining in the game.

"They were getting penetration, we were helping and they were kicking," Montgomery said. "We couldn't let that happen. The zone protects us, foul-wise, and we were really fearful of Vucevic."

USC star Nikola Vucevic was limited by foul trouble all night, scoring only six points on 2-of-8 shooting from the floor, 0-for-2 from three and 2-for-2 at the line. His partner in crime, Alex Stepheson, scored just eight points and pulled down six rebounds.

"We knew what Stepheson was going to do and we were very fearful of Vucevic, in terms of what he's capable of doing," Montgomery said. "In the first half, Bak (Bak) was going over and crowding him, but in the second half he got the ball too much and was able to make others better. Then, at the end, we helped off of Smith a couple of times, and we told Jorge that he couldn't come over and help, and he said, 'But the guy's driving,' and we said, 'Jorge, you can't help. Smith has shot seven threes!' That's something that you just have to recognize.

However, Vucevic did manage to pull down 10 boards and, along with Stepheson, frustrated Cal junior forward Harper Kamp and senior center Markhuri Sanders-Frison.

"It can be tough when guys are surrounding you," Kamp said. "I had no legs at that point. I had a lot more legs at the end of the game than I did at the beginning. They were doing a good job of getting on top of me and bumping underneath, like they're taught to, and walling and maybe I was taking some shots a little too quickly and not getting my balance."

In the first half, Kamp shot a dismal 1-for-6 from the floor with two boards, and Sanders-Frison went 1-for-3 with three rebounds.

But with Vucevic sitting on the bench with four fouls for a large chunk of the second half, Cal clawed back to take a 58-54 lead with 4:01 left in the game thanks to some well-timed points in the paint from Kamp and Sanders-Frison, who alone scored all seven of Cal's points to USC's two during Vucevic's 3:31 absence.

"Vucevic is a 20-10 guy in the league, so you have to pay some attention to him," Kamp said. "We just wanted to limit his touches as much as possible, and if we minimized his touches and didn't let him get the ball where he wanted it, he'd be less effective. Stepheson is obviously a great rebounder, and if he gets the ball low, he's hard to stop. Minimizing their touches was the key."

Kamp, for his part, helped to ice the game for the Bears in the waning seconds, hitting one of his two free throws with 22 seconds left to put Cal up by two. On the night, Kamp shot 6-of-12 from the floor and hit 7-of-10 from the free-throw line to score a team-high 19 points.

But once Vucevic came back in, Donte Smith again found himself wide open from beyond the arc, nailing his eighth three of the night from the right side to bring the Trojans within one at 58-57 with 3:06 left.

An ill-timed foul by junior point guard Jio Fontan on Kamp -- he of 84.8 percent shooting from the free-throw line -- gave Cal the chance to extend the lead. Fontan's infraction was ruled intentional -- he wrapped his arms around the Bears' 6-foot-8 forward and dragged him to the ground -- and Kamp drained both of his attempts from the charity stripe to give the Bears a three-point lead and the ball.

"That was huge," Montgomery said. "I thought that we had a mismatch, and immediately, we didn't recognize it. But, when we did recognize it, we went in and the little guy was the obvious place to go. He tried to gamble in front, and Harper had a clear lay-up, and it was a pretty aggressive foul. Now, (the referee) called for a foul, and I'm calling for an intentional, and he says 'No.' I'm thinking that's a classic intentional. But, he didn't see what he thought was an intentional. To give them credit, because they don't want to listen to me anymore, the other official came over and said, 'We need to maybe check that, because he wasn't playing the ball.'"

On the ensuing Cal possession, Sanders-Frison backed up Stepheson down low and hit his patented baby hook to put the Bears up 62-57.

"Markhuri had some real big shots, and he was converting down there a little better than I was towards the end," Kamp said. "He was solid down there, and that's big for us to be able to execute down the stretch."

Just 20 seconds later, Sanders-Frison picked up his fifth foul on a driving Fontan, but, all was not lost. With 1:18 left, the dangerous Vucevic fouled out after bringing the Trojans back to within four with a thunderous dunk.

USC was down by six with less than a minute left, but Brandon Smith coughed the ball up as he tried to drive the lane, and Maurice Jones picked up the loose ball, pushing it up court and finding Vucevic's replacement -- Garrett Jackson -- in the right corner a nothing-but-net three.

A foul by true freshman Richard Solomon on Stepheson with 23.9 seconds left allowed the Trojans' other big man the opportunity to bring things even closer. But the 6-foot-10, 250-pound senior saw his first attempt rattle off the front of the rim. He sank his second, bringing USC to within two points at 66-64.

With both teams sitting on 10 fouls, and both Sanders-Frison and Vucevic out, Kamp became the focus of the Trojans defense, and was fouled in the backcourt by Donte Smith.

"It was my legs; I couldn't get up under the ball like I should," said Kamp of missing his first shot of two. "I just kind of tossed it up there a little bit. I'm definitely disappointed with that miss. Coming off of the UCLA game, where my free throw stroke felt real good and I had my legs under me, I have to get back in the gym and shoot some more."

After Kamp made one-of-two, USC's Fontan ran the length of the floor to finish with a finger-roll, bringing the Trojans to within one. But on the in-bound, it was Donte Smith again dealing a crucial foul, this time on true freshman Allen Crabbe with 5.9 seconds left.

Crabbe - who came into the game as an 83.7-percent free-throw shooter, missed his first shot, but iced his second, giving the Bears what turned out to be the winning margin.

"Those foul shots down the stretch, we just made it harder than it had to be," said Montgomery, who's team made just 4-of-8 from the line in the final 1:18. "We had situations where, really, when Brandon turned it over, there was no need to do anything but make them foul us, and he shouldn't have been trying to make a play at all. There was a lot of time left on the shot clock, and it was a game of clock there, at that point. We'll learn and we'll get better at that stuff."

Notebook
• That late turnover by Brandon Smith in the lane was one of only eight Cal turnovers, compared to the Trojans' 11.

"That's a season-low for us, so that's good," Montgomery said. "That's good stuff."

Of the 11 USC turnovers, four were caused by Gutierrez, who contributed a quartet of steals to the Bears' seven overall swipes.

"That's what he has to do," Montgomery said. "He can't worry about his shots. I think that we need to work Allen a little more. It seemed like, late, we kept going to where Jorge was the guy, instead of Allen, where he was put in position to try and shoot the ball. Maybe we need to go to Allen and bring Jorge off the secondary screen so he can get some penetration. That's just knowing, learning, understanding, all that good stuff."

Cal scored 13 points off of turnovers, while USC scored 11.

• The Bears scored 12 second-chance points to the Trojans' seven, and added four points on the fast break to USC's goose egg.

• Despite a marked size advantage, the Trojans were outscored in the paint, 26-22, by Cal.

Bak Bak scored seven of the Bears' nine points off the bench on Saturday night, going 2-of-3 from the floor and 3-of-5 from the foul line. He also pulled down three boards in 17 minutes of play.

"Bak's a good foul shooter, and he got a lay-up early," Montgomery said. "I thought Bak's major contribution was just the defensive end and he played big early. Richard (Solomon) got two (rebounds) and Bak did a really nice job of coming over and filling on the weak side and he played with a lot of confidence."

• Four Bears finished in double-figures in scoring on the night: Sanders-Frison (12), Brandon Smith (12), Kamp (19) and Crabbe (12).

"Brandon was pretty aggressive today," Kamp said. "It worked out for us."

Five of Brandon Smith's points came in the first 3:39 of the game. They were the only five points scored up to that point, before Stepheson buried a slam dunk to get USC on the board. The Trojans missed their first eight shots of the game, and had just two points for the first 6:34.

"I can't remember doing that at Cal," laughed Smith. "I just came out with an aggressive mindset, set the tempo and I feel like I've got some speed, so I can beat people up the floor. It gets my guys going, gets them excited a little bit, and it gets us momentum."

• Crabbe's 12 points dipped his scoring average a bit after scoring 19.4 per contest over his last five games.


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