At some point, USC knew it was going to break through, having been tied or leading in every Pac-10 game. Thanks to a 25-0 run that started with over six minutes to go in the first half, the Trojans (13-9, 5-5 Pac-10) clamped down on defense and hit key baskets down the stretch to top California 66-63 at the Galen Center.
"I'm not proud of the way we started," Kevin O'Neill said. "But I thought we really fought as hard as I've seen a group fight in a long time."
After falling behind by 13 and looking like they were going to get run out of the building, the Trojans made plays on both ends of the court to power the 25-0 run from the 6:48 mark of the first half to the 16:02 mark in the second half.
"We just started playing defensively," O'Neill said about the stretch. "We were as bad the first ten minutes as we have been all year. For us it starts and ends on the defensive end."
Dwight Lewis led the Trojans with 13 points and Nikola Vucevic grabbed a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. USC's star player however might have been Marcus Simmons, who finished with seven points and guarded Cal's Jerome Randle extremely tough.
"I know from seeing him at practice he's the best guy to guard guys that are going off," O'Neill said.
Randle led all scorers with 29 points and brought the Bears (14-8, 6-4 Pac-10) back into the game but was held scoreless the final 4:37 of the game. After scoring a career-high 27 the previous game against Arizona, Theo Robertson was held to just eight points.
"We played some unbelievable defense," Mike Gerrity said. "Randle was still making some shots but that's just the type of player he is. We really dug in on the defensive end."
After trading baskets down the stretch, Gerrity's three pointer from the corner put USC up 59-57. With the shot clock winding down on the next possession, Gerrity hit a deep three to send the Galen Center crowd of 7,412 into a frenzy.
"I just stepped in and shot it like any other shot," Gerrity said. "I really didn't think about it too much. I was just seeing that clock wind down."
"The crowd was great," Nikola Vucevic said. "Especially the student section, they were great."
Vuecvic sealed the win by knocking down four crucial free throws at the end of the game. Although he struggled for most of the game, Vucevic had no problem with the pressure down the stretch.
"It was kind of tough to get on the line with everyone looking at you," Vucevic said. "But I had confidence in myself.
"When I was little we watched all the NBA games. You'd see (Michael) Jordan hit all those game winning shots and you want to do that one day. I've always wanted to be a clutch player."
The crowd was the largest of the year at The Galen Center.
Dwight Lewis played in his 125th game as a Trojan to move past Brandon Granville as the school's all-time leader in games played.
"That was the best way to get it," Lewis said. "Set a record and get a win."
The Trojans will take on the Stanford Cardinal at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Galen Center. USC lost the previous meeting, at Stanford by one point.
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