LOS ANGELES -- By the time it was over Thursday afternoon, USC not only was too big for Cal but also too quick.
The fourth-seeded Trojans used the combination to sculpt a 70-56 quarterfinal victory in the Pac-10 tournament at the Staples Center, sending the fifth-seeded Bears home and ending their long-shot dreams of reaching the NCAA tournament.
Cal (17-14) had its four-game win streak snapped but not its belief that an NIT bid will come its way Sunday night. The Bears could host a first-round game Tuesday or Wednesday.
"I would think we'd be a very strong NIT team," coach Mike Montgomery said. "We've had one hell of a year, given the circumstances. If the NIT comes along, we want to jump on that as a springboard."
"We don't want the season to be over now," agreed freshman Allen Crabbe, who led the Bears with 21 points.
The Bears probably needed to win the Pac-10 tournament to earn an NCAA spot, and their man-to-man defense early gave them a good start. The Trojans (19-13) scored just once on their first 16 possessions, but Cal couldn't take advantage.
Cal led 11-3 with 111/2 minutes left in the half before USC cranked up its defense.
"I felt like we could have been up 10, 12, 14 points. We got the ball exactly where we wanted it, but we couldn't score," Montgomery said. "At that point, we seemed to lose a little bit of steam."
Cal's Harper Kamp did an effective job defensively against 6-foot-10 all-conference
But USC's length inside made it difficult for Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison, who combined to shoot 4 for 13. Kamp had three shots blocked in the first half, by the end of which USC led 35-27.
When Vucevic picked up his third foul four minutes into the second half, it appeared the Bears got the break they needed. Instead, the Trojans countered with a quicker three-guard lineup, and the Bears couldn't keep up.
"They went small, and we didn't expect that," Cal guard Jorge Gutierrez said. "They gave us a lot of problems. They were faster."
The backcourt threesome of Maurice Jones (16 points), Donte Smith (14) and Jio Fontan (12) combined for seven 3-point baskets and 10 assists and easily penetrated the Cal defense, even after the Bears switched back to zone.
USC senior forward Alex Stepheson had a huge game, pairing 14 points with 16 rebounds.
"They were bigger in the post, quicker on the perimeter," Montgomery conceded.
Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill said it all started with defense.
"We played with a sense of desperation, I thought. Nothing's more desperate than to be 10 minutes into a game and have three points," he said. "If we guard, offense will eventually happen. Our defense took it to them."
The Trojans' lead reached 17 points barely six minutes into the second half, and Cal never again got closer than 10.
After opening the game 1 for 11 from the field, the Trojans made 24 of their final 45 shots. Cal shot just 42.6 percent, and guards Gutierrez and Brandon Smith combined for 13 turnovers.
Freshman forward Richard Solomon gave a solid effort, contributing 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks.
Asked what kind of team the Bears could be a year from now, Gutierrez said, "We're not done with this season yet. We've got a game next week, and we've got to focus on that game."