Rakocevic scores career-high 27 to lead USC over Cal 82-73

LOS ANGELES (AP) — USC might be lacking in depth, but Nick Rakocevic and Bennie Boatwright can still pose plenty of matchup problems.

The frontcourt duo combined for 46 points as the undermanned Trojans opened Pac-12 Conference play with an 82-73 victory over California on Thursday night.

Rakocevic, a 6-foot-11 junior center, scored a career-high 27 points and was 12 of 14 from the field. Boatwright, a 6-10 senior forward, added 19 points.

“Bennie and I like playing the inside game,” Rakocevic said. “With his size he can create things off the dribble. Opposing teams aren’t comfortable in a pick-and-roll with two guys that size.”

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Rakocevic, who also had eight rebounds, has three games this season where he has scored 20 points or more. Boatwright, who missed the first two games this season due to a knee injury, is averaging 17.5 points over the past four games.

The two will need to continue to play well as the Trojans are down to seven healthy scholarship players. USC announced on Tuesday that Jordan Usher is transferring and freshman Elijah Weaver injured his ankle during a pregame walkthrough before Thursday’s game.

“We’ve had so many freak things happen. It seems like guys get injured every week,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “It is very challenging. It is hard to get in a rhythm. We need our guys to get healthy.”

Four of the five starters played 35 minutes or more and six players saw 18-plus minutes. Despite the short bench, the Trojans committed a season-low five turnovers while having 21 assists in winning their third straight.

USC (8-6, 1-0 Pac-12) led most of the game and were up 15 midway through the second half. The Golden Bears though made things interesting late, going on a 17-6 run to get within 71-67 with 2:45 remaining. Shaqquan Aaron though made a huge 3-pointer on the ensuing trip to end any momentum.

Justin Sueing led Cal (5-8, 0-1) with 16 points and 11 rebounds for the first double-double of his career. Paris Austin added 13 points.

“We had some open looks that we normally knock down. If we just shot the ball better I think it would have been a totally different game,” California coach Wyking Jones said.

Cal led 12-9 with 12:49 remaining in the first half before the Trojans went on a 19-5 run over a six-minute span. The Trojans were 7 of 9 from the field, including 2 of 3 on 3-pointers, as Boatwright scored five points while Rakocevic and J’Raan Brooks added four apiece. The Bears were 1 of 10 from the field, including 1 of 6 from beyond the arc.

The Golden Bears outscored the Trojans 16-9 the remainder of the half — including going 3 of 5 on 3-pointers — as USC held a 37-33 lead at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

California: The Golden Bears have dropped eight straight in Pac-12 play and have gone winless in nine straight conference games on the road.

USC: The Trojans shot 53.4 percent from the floor. It is unbeaten in seven games this season when making over half of its shots.

UNSUNG HERO

USC point guard Derryck Thornton had his first double-double with 13 points and a career-high 12 assists. The junior ended up three rebounds away from a triple-double.

“He played a great floor game. He ran the team tonight and played under control. We are starting to get more consistency from him,” Enfield said.

GOOD RETURN

Cal center/forward Connor Vanover, who missed the past three games due to broken nose and concussion, had career highs in points (10) and blocked shots (three).

UP NEXT

California: Travels to UCLA on Saturday.

USC: Hosts Stanford on Sunday.

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