LOS ANGELES (AP)—Even when No. 24 Southern California fell behind UC Riverside by 14 points early in the game, the Trojans remained confident.
“We weren’t worried. We knew we just had to focus and get some defensive stops,” freshman O.J. Mayo said Saturday night after scoring 13 of his 20 points in the second half of the Trojans’ 70-57 victory.
“They came out and played well. We just wanted to keep trying to attack and get some easy baskets.”
Mayo went 5-of-11 from the floor in the second half to finish 8-of-21, and he also had a team-high eight rebounds.
Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett added 13 points apiece for the Trojans (9-3) in their final tuneup before they open Pac-10 play at California on Thursday.
Riverside (3-8) had a strong first half, bolting out to a 26-12 lead in the first 12 minutes before the Trojans came back. The teams were tied at 34 at the break.
“It was a really good game,” Gibson said. “They played tough defense. Being a college basketball fanatic, I enjoyed it.”
The Trojans ran their streak of holding opponents to 62 points or fewer to nine consecutive games.
Larry Cunningham led Riverside with 19 points, and Jalonni Diggs scored 10.
UCR coach Jim Wooldridge, once a teammate of Trojans coach Tim Floyd at Louisiana Tech and then on Floyd’s staff with the Chicago Bulls, thought the Highlanders played well.
“They (the Trojans) obviously are a better team than we are and one of the better teams in the country,” Wooldridge said. “We knew to beat them we would have to play picture-perfect.”
Gibson’s dunk with 14:22 left put the Trojans up 44-43 and, with Mayo scoring eight points during the run, they opened a 61-53 lead with 6:39 remaining.
Mayo made several spectacular plays during that stretch, including one drive where he stumbled and almost fell at the start, managed to keep control of the ball, regained his balance going down the lane and made a layup over two defenders.
“I guess I got lucky,” he said with a grin.
On another play, he threaded a snap pass between defenders to Keith Wilkinson under the basket for an easy layup.
“Keith made a great screen, and his man had to help out on me, so he was open and close to the basket,” Mayo said.
Cunningham hit four of his five 3-point shots and scored 13 points in the first half for the Highlanders, who were ahead by as much as 29-19 with 5:52 remaining before the Trojans began to come back.
Hackett made a pair of free throws 1:45 before halftime to give USC a 32-31 lead, and Mayo hit a jumper for a three-point lead, but Cunningham was good from beyond the arc with 28 seconds remaining to tie it.
Gibson led the Trojans with 10 first-half points.