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USC Basketball: Fourth-seeded Trojans lead fifth-seeded California at halftime, 35-27

Buried early by terrible play, fourth-seeded USC stormed back from a wide deficit to take a 35-27 halftime lead against fifth-seeded California in Thursday's quarterfinals of the Pacific Life Pac-10 Tournament at Staples Center.

The game started at noon, so perhaps both teams came out a little easy. Well, USC did, anyway. 

By the 11:30 mark, California led, 11-3; USC was one for 10 from the floor and had five turnovers.

But from that point, USC closed on a 24-9 run, shooting 10 for 18 from the floor, to take a 27-20 lead on a three-point jumper by freshman guard Maurice Jones with 2:35 left before halftime. 

What's been most impressive about that run is that USC did it mostly with star junior forward Nikola Vucevic on the bench. Vucevic, who is averaging 17.7 points and 10.3 rebounds, picked up his second foul with 8:13 left and checked out of the game nine seconds later. He didn't return the rest of the half.

Even without him, though, USC's defense, which entered the game leading the Pac-10 in points allowed (62.9), turned it up a notch. 

At one point during that run, when USC had scored 10 consecutive points, the Trojans coaxed California players into two charging fouls, the second of which was the third foul on California's gritty point guard, Jorge Gutierrez.  

USC's guards also stepped it up. Senior Donte Smith hit three three-point jumpers and has nine points. Jio Fontan scored eight and senior Marcus Simmons has nine, including hitting a three-pointer just as the halftime buzzer sounded. 

The Trojans are shooting 11 for 28 (39.3%) from the floor, and California is shooting 11 for 29 (37.9%).

Pac-10 freshman of the year Allen Crabbe has scored eight points to lead California.

The teams split the two-game regular-season series, with each winning on the road. Both those games were decided by three points or fewer. 

And if you want some more background about this game and the matchup, check out this pregame blog entry

-- Baxter Holmes

 
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