Senior big man Markhuri Sanders-Frison nearly rescued the Cal basketball team Thursday night with an unexpected perimeter shooting display in the final minute.
But the Golden Bears never quite got over a lights-out shooting performance by the smallest man on the floor -- 5-foot-7 Trojans freshman Maurice Jones -- and USC escaped Haas Pavilion with a 78-75 victory.
Sanders-Frison scored 10 of his career-high 23 points in the final 44 seconds, including the first two 3-pointers of his career. The second of those, with 2.3 seconds left, got the Bears within 76-75 after they trailed 73-65 with less than a minute left.
Nikola Vucevic iced the game for USC (14-12, 6-7 Pac-10) by converting two free throws with 1.2 seconds left. Jeff Powers' half-court heave was late and wide.
Playing again without freshman Allen Crabbe, Cal (13-13, 6-8) has lost four games in a row for the first time in coach Mike Montgomery's three seasons in Berkeley. Five of their eight Pac-10 defeats have been by four points or fewer.
The Bears get two days' rest before facing UCLA on Sunday night. Montgomery said he doesn't know if Crabbe, who suffered a concussion at Washington a week ago Thursday, will be ready to play.
Sanders-Frison, who had never even attempted a 3-pointer in 56 previous games at Cal, said, "I took 'em because I had to take 'em. We just gave No. 10 too many looks. He hurt us real bad."
Jones scored 13 points in a span of 2 minutes, 51 seconds, midway through the second half and finished with a career-high 22 points, all in the second half.
Removed from the starting lineup because coach Kevin O'Neill wanted more scoring punch, Jones changed the game in a flash after the Bears scrambled back within 42-41 with 141/2 minutes left.
Jones scored on consecutive slashing drives through Cal's zone defense to get the Trojans going, then stood far beyond the 3-point line and made three in a row from the right wing.
"We didn't get up to the shooter time and time again, and he made 'em all," Montgomery said.
The 6-foot-10 Vucevic, held to six points in Cal's win over USC at Los Angeles last month, had 21 points and 10 rebounds for his conference-leading 15th double-double.
Harper Kamp had 16 points and 10 rebounds for Cal, and Jorge Gutierrez added 13 points, although he shot just 2 for 13 before fouling out with 1:06 left after a brief but angry confrontation with USC's Donte Smith that resulted in a double-technical foul.
The Bears made just two of their first 17 shots, converted 24 percent for the first half and trailed 33-22 at the break.
"Truthfully, the first half was ridiculous. We just didn't come to play," Montgomery said. "SC got physical with us, and we kind of got backed off."
Crabbe, averaging 15.2 points in Pac-10 games, participated in the afternoon shootaround, then was pulled before pregame warm-ups.
"He's a big key to our team "... we definitely missed Allen," Sanders-Frison said. "But we still had a chance to get them without him."
UCLA (19-7, 10-3 Pac-10) at Cal (13-13, 6-8), 7 p.m., CSNBA
Stanford's late charge falls short against UCLA. Page 3