SEATTLE (CBS / AP) — Twice during the regular season, USC proved to be one of the more frustrating opponents for California to solve.
In the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament on Friday, the Golden Bears finally had an easy time against the Trojans.
Gennifer Brandon had 17 points and 16 rebounds and No. 5 California scored the first 11 points on its way to a 78-59 win over USC.
“The biggest thing was physicality,” USC’s Cassie Harberts said. “They gave us the punch and we just kind of fell flat on our butt and didn’t respond. We needed to come out and throw the first punch, we needed to be aggressive.”
Brandon led a balanced scoring attack for the Golden Bears, who clinched a share of their first conference title in school history last Saturday with a win over Washington.
Afure Jemerigbe and Brittany Boyd both added 15 as California (28-2) won its 16th straight. The 28 wins are a single-season school record.
USC reached the quarters by knocking off Oregon State in the opening round on Thursday, but the Trojans couldn’t be competitive against the Golden Bears for a third time this season.
USC took California to overtime in Berkeley in January before the Bears pulled out a 71-63 win. A month later in Los Angeles, the Trojans rallied in the second half but fell short in a 72-64 loss.
Harberts led USC (11-20) with 24 points, but this time the Trojans were playing catch up from the start.
“They were committed to showing us they were the tougher team,” USC coach Michael Cooper said.
California dominated most of the first half, holding USC to 27 percent shooting and forcing 10 turnovers, which the Bears turned into 14 points.
California led by as many as 21, but the Trojans scored eight of the final 10 points of the half to get within 15, a deficit that could have been less had USC not missed its final four shots of the half. California had 11 offensive rebounds in the first half while USC had 16 total rebounds.
The Bears started the second half on a 10-4 run and were never threatened. California held a 53-34 advantage on the boards and led by as many as 27 in the second half.
Brandon’s 16 rebounds were her third-most of the season. She had a school-record 26 rebounds against USC earlier this season.
“I knew they were going to try and box me out so I just tried to slither my way through and be ready to go get the rebound anywhere I could,” Brandon said.
Christina Marinacci and Ariya Crook both added 10 points for the Trojans. But USC shot only 33 percent and were outscored 25-7 in the paint because of Cal’s height advantage.
“The biggest thing was toughness,” Cooper said. “I thought they were a lot tougher on the boards and when you give up 22 offensive rebounds … you’re not going to win too many games when you give up those types of points in the paint.”
Talia Caldwell scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds and the Golden Bears topped the 70-point mark for the eighth time in their past 10 games.
California has reached the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament for the seventh straight year and keeps alive the Golden Bears hopes of earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
California would likely need to beat Stanford in the title game or have the Cardinal get upset before reaching the final for the Bears to have a shot at a No. 1 seed.
The response in the quarterfinals is what Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb expected to see after a week where the Golden Bears were busy accepting congratulations for winning a share of the regular season conference crown for the first time in school history.
“Everyone was locked in after the smiles and everything of last weekend,” Gottlieb said.
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