NCAA

Unique NCAA challenge for Cal

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Unique NCAA challenge for Cal

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) -- Every pass is a risk. Every basket is an accomplishment. The scoreboard doesn't change very much and may not make it up to 50 until late in the game.

South Florida is bringing its own brand of ugliness to the NCAA tournament.

The Bulls (20-13) got to the First Four because of their ability to make a basket the ultimate challenge. They set a Big East record by allowing only 56.9 points per game this season, reducing high-flying offenses to 40 minutes of futility.

"That's what we want to do," coach Stan Heath said on Tuesday. "We want to disrupt you. We want to smell your breath. We want to get underneath your skin. We want to make life miserable for you."
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Next on their misery index is California (24-9), a balanced team that has four players in double figures and has never seen anything quite like what they'll face on Wednesday night in the First Four. The Golden Bears have spent the last couple of days watching video of South Florida frustrate one offense after another, no matter what their style.

Like to shoot 3s? Not going to do it. Like to get the ball inside? Forget about it. Eager for some fast-break baskets off rebounds? Might as well just become resigned to walking the ball up the court.

During interviews on Tuesday at the University of Dayton, Pac-12 player of the year Jorge Gutierrez was asked whether California has faced another defense similar to South Florida. He thought a few seconds and couldn't identify another one. He glanced at teammate Harper Kamp for a suggestion and got none.

The Bulls pose a unique challenge.

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"I think it's going to be the first (such) team," Gutierrez said. "It's going to be a real challenge on the physical side of the game. We're excited for the challenge, and we'll see what happens."

Hint: It's not going to be pretty.

South Florida held 16 opponents in the 50s in scoring and seven opponents in the 40s during the season, giving up a season-low 43 points in a win over Florida Southern. Their 58-51 win at Louisville on Feb. 29 prompted coach Rick Pitino to later equate facing their defense to getting a root canal.

The Bulls took it as the highest form of praise.

"This is certainly not the first time you've seen a defensive team go out and be successful," forward Ron Anderson Jr. said. "A lot of times nowadays, people are more interested in the flashiness of a game or how high somebody's jumping or how many blocked shots you can get. But when it's all said and done, it boils down to fundamentals.

"Every head coach across the nation, on the first day of practice, they always harp on defense. That's where you start off with. And for us, it's really helped us out, won us most of our games this year."

They need it to compensate for an offense that scores points at the same anemic rate that the defense gives them up. The Bulls don't have even one player with a double-digit scoring average. They've been held in the 40s eight times this season, with their low point a 52-40 loss to Auburn.

The Bulls thought they were ready to reach the NCAA tournament last season, but tumbled to a 10-win season that prompted their coach to reassess. They didn't have a lot of dependable scorers, so he put the emphasis on the other side of the ball.

He challenged the Bulls to embrace ugly games.

"You're trying to get ready for a season and the only thing that coach is talking about is: Listen, we're going to have to sacrifice individualistic play, we're going to have to sacrifice scoring, we're going to have to build our team around toughness, defense and team play,'" Heath said. "And as a player you say to yourself: Do I want to win, or do I want to lose?' And you have to make that decision.

"And those guys made a decision that winning was the most important thing ahead of individualistic things, and that's why we are where we are."

They've grown to love their identity.

"We'll come out of a huddle sometimes and we'll tell each other: All right, the next three times down the court, we want to get three stops,'" Anderson said. "And the five guys on the court, we really pride ourselves in going out there, and getting those three stops. When we get one, we yell it out: Got one stop!'

"That brings energy for the team. That brings the confidence of the team up. And all those things are really vital to winning the game. I think that will probably be the biggest thing."

With this team, it usually is.

Cal fights USC into fourth quarter, can't complete the upset

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AP

Cal fights USC into fourth quarter, can't complete the upset

BOX SCORE

BERKELEY -- Stephen Carr ran for a fourth-quarter touchdown two plays after Southern California's defense forced one of its six turnovers and the fifth-ranked Trojans won their 13th straight game, 30-20 over California on Saturday.

USC (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) has dominated the series with its in-state rival by winning 14 straight against the Golden Bears (3-1, 0-1), but this was one of the tightest matchups in years as the game was tied early in the fourth quarter.

Sam Darnold threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns for the Trojans but also had an interception and was under pressure for much of the day.

It was the defense that stepped up for USC, intercepting a pass from Ross Bowers in the first quarter to set up a field goal and then delivering the big play early in the fourth quarter after Chase McGrath gave the Trojans a 16-13 lead with his third field goal of the game.

Josh Fatu knocked the ball out of Bowers' hand and Uchenna Nwosu recovered the fumble at the 3. Carr ran it in two plays later from the 2 to make it 23-13.

Ykili Ross then intercepted Bowers' pass on the next possession, setting up Darnold's 4-yard TD pass to Deontay Burnett that put away the game.

Bowers finished 22 for 50 for 303 yards with one touchdown, four interceptions and two lost fumbles.

THE TAKEAWAY

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: The Trojans struggled for much of the game without starting RB Ronald Jones (ankle) and WR Steven Mitchell (groin) but managed to pull away late in their first road game of the season.

CALIFORNIA: The Bears used an improved defense to start 3-0 under first-year coach Justin Wilcox but this was supposed to be the test of how far they had come. Cal showed plenty by sticking with a national title contender for three quarters. A sequence on the opening drive of the second will haunt the Bears. Patrick Laird dropped a potential TD in the end zone and Matt Anderson then missed a 29-yard field goal that kept the game tied at 13.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

A win against an unranked team should do little to alter USC's poll position.

UP NEXT

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Visits No. 18 Washington State on Friday.

CALIFORNIA: Visits No. 24 Oregon on Saturday.

From feeding homeless to doing the splits, Stanford's Phillips a rare find

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From feeding homeless to doing the splits, Stanford's Phillips a rare find

Stanford has a penchant for recruiting the overachieving student-athlete. Even among those standards, Harrison Phillips is a rare find. The senior defensive tackle helps feed the homeless every Friday morning at a local shelter. He often visits the kids in the oncology ward at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. He was named to the Pac-12 All Academic First Team and will graduate in December with a double major and a minor. He is a team captain and heir apparent to Solomon Thomas, the 49ers third overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.

“One thing you love about Harrison is, every day he’s going to get something done,” head coach David Shaw told NBC Sports Bay Area. “On the field, off the field, in the community, he’s always got a million things going on. But nothing ever suffers.

"He does everything at a high level.”

At 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, Phillips is a mountain of a man. His skill set is different than that of Thomas, but he can be just as disruptive. He plays over the center. He plays over the guards. His self-proclaimed job is to eat as many blocks as possible to keep the linebackers free.

“He’s such that hard point for us. He’s that guy up front that’s getting knock back, that force in the run game that you gotta have,” defensive coordinator Lance Anderson explained. “You have to have that strong solid point in the middle of your defense, and he provides that.”

Phillips had a game-high 11 tackles, five of them solo, in the Cardinal’s loss to USC. No other defensive lineman on the field had more than three.

“He’s outstanding against the run. He’s a very good pass rusher,” Shaw added. “He’s got a lot of tools that can work inside.”

Phillips main instruments of domination are strength, knowledge of leverage and abnormal flexibility for a man of his size.

“He can do the splits on command,” Thomas said laughing from in front of his locker after a recent 49ers practice. “He loves showing it off. We get on him for it. But he loves doing it.

And, according to Thomas, his former Stanford teammate loves to bench. So it comes as no surprise that Phillips’ upper body strength stands out.

“He’ll be really low in a position that you think he’d get knocked over in,” Thomas explained. “Because of how flexible he is, it’s not a problem for him to get in that position and stay there and move on from there. It definitely shows up on his film.”

No doubt, Phillips says, that ability comes from his wrestling experience. His high school curriculum vitae includes, “Nebraska State Wrestling Champion, Heavy Weight Division, Sophomore, Junior and Senior years.”

Phillips first year on The Farm, he vividly remembers his Stanford coaches testing him. Just a mere 245 pounds at the time, they put him up against Joshua Garnett and Andrus Peat, two offensive linemen now in the NFL and each well over 300 pounds.

“They’d double team me, almost 700 pounds on you, and I would somehow find leverage and be able to sit on some of those double teams,” Phillips said. “I think the violence that wrestling brings, and balance and being comfortable in weird positions, wrestling has a ton of scrambling, as it's called, you just know your body and know what you can do. I have tremendous flexibility, and I use everything to my advantage.”

One thing Phillips is not allowed to do is use his explosiveness away from the football field. At one time, Phillips could do a back flip off the wall, but he no longer attempts it.

“I’m not a big fan of the back hand springs,” Shaw said. “I’d like for him to stay on his feet.”

Phillips doesn’t argue. He lost his entire sophomore year to a knee injury, and doesn’t want to risk another. He has NFL aspirations and put himself in position to graduate in three-and-a-half years should he choose to enter the 2018 draft. But just as he has done at Stanford, he is looking to be more than just a name on a jersey should he play on a professional level.

“I want to build something that is really lasting,” Phillips said of his life goal, “and put my name on something to touch people’s lives and change people’s lives, pay it forward as much as I can.”