Three nights after going to overtime against UCLA, Cal never had anyone among the announced crowd of 7,345 at Haas Pavilion thinking victory on Saturday evening.
USC led 11-0 after barely 2 minutes and bombarded the Bears with 19 3-pointers on the way to an 89-66 verdict.
“After showing improvement in the last five or six games, we took a major step back today,” said Cal coach Wyking Jones.
The Bears lost their 20th game of the season — their ongoing school-record 14th in a row — with hardly a whimper. Certainly they appeared entirely disinterested in the notion of defending the perimeter shot.
Only USC senior Bennie Boatwright provided anything resembling entertainment.
Boatwright made nine of his first 10 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc, and tied a Pac-12 record with 10 threes. He scored 36 points.
“I was actually really surprised,” Boatwright said. “I haven’t been that wide open in a long time.”
Jones wasn’t surprised. He saw ominous signs of a letdown in practice Friday. During a segment devoted to defending the 3-point shot, he stopped play and delivered a warning.
“I told the guys if we play the way we’re playing in this zone segment, we’ll lose by 30 points tomorrow,” Jones said. “That practice is what carried over to today.”
USC finished 19 of 31 from beyond the 3-point arc.
The Bears (5-20, 0-13) have now lost 20 games in consecutive seasons for the first time after going 8-24 a year ago. Heck, in 108 previous they had lost as many as 20 games just twice.
This was one settled quickly. USC made its first three 3-pointers while jumping out to its 11-0 lead. Cal, meanwhile, missed its first six shots. The Trojans led 41-26 by halftime and by as many as 31 points in the second half.
After showing some recent fight, even in a series of defeats, the Bears never challenged USC.
“USC got off to a great start, and we don’t have that margin of error to start off that way,” said sophomore Justice Sueing, who led the Bears with 17 points.
Cal has just five more chances — only two at home — to avoid the infamy of joining Oregon State in 2007-08 as the only school to go winless in the conference since the Pac-8 expanded to the Pac-10 in 1978-79.
If they don’t snap out of whatever ailed them on Saturday, it’s hard to envision that first Pac-12 victory ever happening.