February 24, 2024

An 8-inch height difference didn’t deter Boogie Ellis. When it looked as though 6-foot-11 California forward Fardaws Aimaq had a simple rebound, the 6-foot-3 Ellis swooped in and ripped the ball away as if instead of being the first play of the second half with an eight-point lead, the Trojans were locked in a tight game in the final minutes.

After the struggles of the last month, every possession mattered.

USC played like a team with purpose Wednesday for the first time in at least a month, avoiding its worst Pac-12 start since 2014 with an 82-74 win over California at Galen Center.

USC guard Boogie Ellis dribbles by California guard Keonte Kennedy on Wednesday at the Galen Center.

USC guard Boogie Ellis dribbles by California guard Keonte Kennedy on Wednesday at the Galen Center.

(Ryan Sun / Associated Press)

The Trojans (7-7, 1-2 Pac-12) limped back to their home court after a four-game road swing with five losses in their last six games. Their only win during that stretch was against Alabama State. They busted out of their funk by shooting 53.2% from the field, their best percentage since beating Eastern Washington on Nov. 29, and dishing 29 assists on 33 field goals.

Ellis had 15 points, seven assists and eight rebounds, including the offensive board he stole from Aimaq that led to a three-pointer by DJ Rodman on the opening possession of the second quarter. When Cal (4-10, 0-3 Pac-12) cut USC’s 17-point second-half lead to five with two minutes remaining, Ellis settled the Trojans down. The guard slung a perfect bounce pass to a cutting Joshua Morgan late in the shot clock that put USC back up by seven.

Kobe Johnson scored all 14 of his points in the second half, making his first four three-point attempts after halftime. The junior added seven rebounds and five assists while making his first five shots of the second half after shooting 0 for 4 from the field in the first.

Despite missing 11 three-point shots in the first half, the Trojans still pieced together one of their best halves of the season, finishing with a 13-5 run to take a 37-29 lead at halftime. The Trojans had 15 assists on 16 field goals, led by freshman Isaiah Collier’s five first-half assists. He lobbed a sky-high alley oop to Bronny James, who flew into the lane and woke up the home crowd with a towering dunk.

James, coming off a career-best 15 points at Oregon State, finished with 10 points and three assists, including a driving layup with 12:27 remaining that pushed USC’s lead to 17.

Although the win momentarily righted USC’s season, it extended several streaks of futility for the Bears. Cal has lost 11 consecutive games to USC, 19 straight conference games and 24 straight away from home.

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