BERKELEY, Calif. — Nick Rakocevic started the best game of his career with an and-1 bucket down low. The Southern California sophomore followed that with back-to-back layups then felt good enough to wander outside the key for a 16-foot jumper.
On a night when the Trojans were without their leading scorer for the first half, Rakocevic’s quick start got USC going early in a game they were never challenged.
Rakocevic had a career-high 19 points and seven rebounds, and USC beat California 80-62 on Thursday night.
“Nick’s getting better as a player,” Trojans coach Andy Enfield said. “He finishes when he has to, he gets to the open area . very, very proud of him.”
Bennie Boatwright added 15 points and seven rebounds , Jordan Usher scored 14 points and Jordan McLaughlin had six points and eight assists for the Trojans (11-5, 2-1 Pac-12). USC has won five of six.
Rakocevic — starting while leading scorer Chimezie Metu sat out the first half for disciplinary reasons — led the way while going against Cal’s 7-foot-1 shot-blocker Kingsley Okoroh much of the night. The 6-11 Rakocevic shot 8 of 11 from the field and got the majority of his points down low, but showed some versatility with a mid-range jumper that came as part of a 28-4 run.
“This year I’m more comfortable shooting that,” Rakocevic said. “Last year I was kind of hesitant getting the ball out there. Sometimes I’d shoot it, sometimes I’d pass it up. But they give me all the freedom in the world to do what I need to do when I get the ball out there.”
That was big with Metu sitting out the first half.
The junior forward was held out by Enfield after Metu was called for a flagrant 2 foul against Washington State last week when he hit Carter Skaggs in the groin. Metu also lost his role as team captain and had to write an apology to the Cougars.
It hardly mattered against California.
The Trojans went on a 19-2 run in the first half to go up by double figures and led by as many as 30 points.
The Golden Bears, who came back from 17 down in the second half to beat Stanford in the conference opener last week, couldn’t keep up.
California (7-8, 1-1) was held to a season-low 20 first-half points, shot 39.7 percent overall and needed a late scoring flurry to avoid having more turnovers than field goals for the third time this season.
“They weren’t going to let us make a run and (we were) just kind of out of sync,” Bears coach Wyking Jones said. “Once we got into the half-court set against the 2-3, we were still kind of on our heels and running offense, far from, way outside, the 3-point line.”
Justice Sueing had 15 points and nine rebounds, while Marcus Lee added 10 and eight, for Cal.
METU THE MENTOR
Enfield called Metu one of the smartest players he’s coached. USC’s top scorer stayed active while sitting out in the first half and was repeatedly in Rakocevic’s ear during timeouts. “He was telling me to stay aggressive,” Rakocevic said. “He was being a great teammate, keeping us all engaged in the game.”
USC: The Trojans have been on quite a roll since losing three straight games earlier in the season. Although this one wasn’t close, it was a good test with Metu not available in the first half. Metu scored six points in 11 minutes.
California: Okoroh started because Jones wanted more size on the floor after going with a smaller lineup. Okoroh started the first six games of the season but had come off the bench the previous eight.
USC: Plays at Stanford on Sunday night.
California: Hosts UCLA on Saturday afternoon.