LOS ANGELES — 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 Trojans opened Pac-12 play with an 82-73 victory over Cal on Thursday night.
Rakocevic, a 6-foot-11 junior center, scored 27 points, and Boatwright, a 6-10 senior forward, added 19.
“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.”
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 because of 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 (8-6, 1-0 Pac-12) are down to seven healthy scholarship players. USC announced on Tuesday that Jordan Usher is transferring and freshman Elijah Weaver injured his ankle 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.
USC (8-6, 1-0 Pac-12) led most of the game and was up 15 midway through the second half. The Bears (5-8, 0-1) 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 three-pointer on the ensuing trip to end any momentum.
Justin Sueing led Cal with 16 points and 11 rebounds and Paris Austin added 13 points.
“We had some open looks that we normally knock down,” Cal coach Wyking Jones said. “If we just shot the ball better I think it would have been a totally different game.”
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 three-pointers, as Boatwright scored five points and Rakocevic and J’Raan Brooks added four apiece. The Bears were 1 -for-10 from the field, including 1 -for-6 from beyond the arc.
The 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.
Joe Reedy is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/collegesports/article/Cal-falls-to-USC-in-Pac-12-opener-13507700.php.