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January 23, 2014

Trojans come alive, get 1st Pac-12 win

They weren't whispers any more. They weren't even questions.

This Trojans team can't play a lick, they were saying, as USC opened 0-5 in the Pac-12 without coming close. Every loss by 18 points or more.

And their coach, well, maybe that leap from Florida Gulf Coast and two NCAA Tournament wins a year ago was just that. A leap -- of faith for USC.

This USC team was bad and getting worse. No energy. No enthusiasm. No effort.

And no chance.

And then a funny thing happened as Cal's undefeated Bears coached by the Pac-12's veteran wizard rolled into Galen Center.

And got rolled. Got run by. And jumped over. And shot around. The final score? 77-69. But it didn't really seem that close.

Except for this. One team hadn't won one. One team hadn't lost. It was hard to remember that watching how they played this one as USC opened with confidence, scoring early, beating Cal down the court, hustling for loose balls, turning it over just 11 times, getting the better of the Bears on the boards, doing what they had to do to win this one.

"We had to change something," Andy Enfield said after his first Pac-12 win as a coach. Although he wasn't going to share exactly what that was.

One thing it was: Getting double production out of the guard spot from senior Pe'Shon Howard, who got the start here, and freshman Julian Jacobs, who came off the bench this night.

Both were the better for the switch. Howard, the ACC veteran from Maryland, hustled past startled Bears waiting for USC's normally sluggish start with 12 points and a season-high 10 assists to just three turnovers.

Jacobs, the athletic freshman from Las Vegas, had 12 points, four assists and no turnovers in his 27 minutes that included another flying-over-their-heads slam dunk on the break.

Those were two of USC's 44 points in the paint (to Cal's 26). The Trojans (10-9, 1-5 in the Pac-12) were beating the Bears (14-5, 5-1) down to the other end. And did so from the start.

And with those early runout scores and hustle plays came a couple of things: energy and confidence. This was not the team that fell behind 17-2 on the road last weekend.

This was a team that went to Byron Wesley just enough to get him 14 points, four assists and no turnovers.

"We tried to do that," Enfield said of the confidence-boosting speeded-up play that produced the early scores. "Our guys did a great job running the floor."

It's actually USC's one real edge most nights. They can beat you up the floor -- if they only try.

Wednesday night they tried.

The guy who really tried here was 6-foot-10 freshman Nikola Jovanovic in his breakout game, going off for a career-high 23 points in 26 minutes on a variety of post moves often with lefthanded finishes as he knocked down eight of 10 from the field.

A stat pattern Enfield learned after the game was that when Jovanovic scores in double figures, USC is 8-1.

Speaking of the field, USC outshot Cal, 51.9 percent (28 of 54) to 39.3 percent (24 of 61).

"They beat us in every phase of the game," Cal Coach Mike Montgomery said. "They came out with urgency and we were a step behind both ways. They beat us fair and square."

Montgomery said that his guys looking ahead to what some thought would be a showdown with UCLA Sunday was no excuse.

"If we were, there is no excuse for that. USC played good. Don't take anything away from that," Montgomery said. "They were organized. They were disciplined. They executed. Guys made plays . . . they outplayed us."

Indeed they did. That's what it's all about. After hibernating for five games, USC woke up and started to play . . . like they can. They played hard -- and smart.

They didn't wait around for something good to happen. They made it happen.

Although as Wesley said, "We're 1-5, we still have work to do."

But now they have a clue as to how to do it.

Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFootball.com. You can reach him at weber@uscfootball.com.


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