USC leaned on its veterans in its Pac-12 Conference opener Thursday as junior forward Nick Rakocevic scored a career-high 27 points and senior forward Bennie Boatwright added 19 as the Trojans held on for an 82-73 victory over visiting Cal.
Junior guard Derryck Thornton added 13 points and a career-high 12 assists for USC (8-6), which won its third consecutive game following a four-game losing streak.
Sophomore forward Justice Sueing scored 16 points with 11 rebounds, and freshman guard Matt Bradley added 14 as Cal (5-8) lost for the third time in its past four games.
Rakocevic was unable to deliver his seventh double-double of the season, but he added eight rebounds and showed his ability to dominate nonetheless by going 12-of-14 from the field.
USC took a 37-33 lead into halftime, but Cal pulled to within a possession early in the second period when a Sueing 3-pointer pulled the Golden Bears to within three at 39-36.
USC then went on a 10-2 run to take a 49-38 lead, and shortly thereafter then went on a second 10-2 run to open a 63-48 advantage.
Cal cut the USC lead to 71-67 on three Sueing free throws with 2:45 remaining, but the Trojans answered with a 3-pointer from senior guard Shaqquan Aaron, their first 3-pointer of the second half, and held on from there.
USC went 31-of-58 (53.4 percent) from the field, and had 21 assists to just five turnovers. The Trojans had just seven scholarship players available because of a number of injuries, including a thigh injury to freshman guard Kevin Porter, who has not played in the last six games.
Junior guard Paris Austin had 13 points and freshman center Connor Vanover had 10 points for the Golden Bears, who have not won on the road in Pac-12 play since Dec. 30, 2017, a victory at Stanford. Sueing’s double-double was his first of the season.
Cal led 29-7 in bench points but committed nine turnovers to 14 assists.
Cal, which entered leading the Pac-12 in 3-point field-goal percentage at 38.2, went 10-of-27 from distance (37 percent).
It was USC’s third consecutive victory in the series, but the Golden Bears have a 136-125 advantage all-time.
—Field Level Media