On a night where offense was hard to come by, Nikola Vucevic came up with just enough for a late tip-in with 20.6 seconds left in the game to help power USC to a 54-49 victory over Stanford at the Galen Center.
It was all too familiar for Vucevic , who missed a tip in against Stanford earlier in the year that could have won the game for USC.
"The tip-in felt good," Vucevic said. "Up (in Stanford) I went with one hand and missed it. This game I had to go with two hands and made it."
Despite shooting just 38 percent on the night, the Trojans (14-9, 6-5 Pac-10) remained in the hunt in the Pac-10 by using defense to win games. The Cardinal (10-13, 4-7 Pac-10) shot just 30 percent from the field but stayed in the game thanks to eight of 19 shooting from three point range.
"We tried to blow it," Kevin O'Neill said. "We missed free throws. We had three or four layups right at the rim we missed. But we really did a great job of executing defensively down the stretch."
Vucevic's tip-in was the biggest of his team-high 18 points and 14 rebounds. Dwight Lewis struggled from the field, going one of ten to finish with four points. Marcus Johnson battled foul trouble but finished with nine points.
"We didn't have any great nights really from anybody offensively," O'Neill said. "Except Nick (Vucevic)."
USC knows about stopping opposing scorers when it counts however. Two days earlier, California's Jerome Randle scored 29 but was held scoreless the final four minutes of the game. Landry Fields was the only Cardinal player in double figures with 27 points but didn't score the final 4:22 of the game. The Pac-10's leading scorer, Fields was a hassle for Marcus Simmons who picked up three early fouls in the first half and forced changes defensively.
"It really hurt us," O'Neill said regarding Simmons foul trouble. "They're dumb fouls. He is not a dumb guy obviously but he wants to stop guys so bad that he fouls a lot of times."
Both Simmons and Marcus Johnson fouled out trying to guard Fields.
"He's a great scorer," Johnson said. "I'm taller and just as strong as him. He hit some tough shots against me today to get me in foul trouble."
The win pushes USC into a game out of first place in the tight Pac-10 standings. It was the first time they beat a team behind them in the standings after going 0-4 previously. The Trojans will take on their cross town rival UCLA Bruins next Sunday at 7:00 p.m. The Trojans have never beaten the Bruins at the Galen Center.