LOS ANGELES — As Bronny James stood at the free throw line with two seconds left and a six-point lead against California, California fans at the Galen Center chanted, “Bronny!”
Excited to return home for the first time in 24 days, the Trojans beat the Golden Bears 82-74 on Wednesday to win for just the second time in seven games.
For James, it was his first Pac-12 conference win and his first home win since returning to the court Dec. 10 after missing more than four months following cardiac arrest in late July. James, a freshman guard and eldest son of Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, subsequently underwent a procedure to treat a congenital heart defect.
James made his first four field goals, including an alley-oop jumper off a pass from fellow freshman standout Isaiah Collier in the first half.
He finished with 10 points, three assists and two rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. While James still plays under a minutes restriction, he can now play for longer periods and looks more comfortable. He was coming off his best game of the season after scoring a career-high 15 points in an 86-70 loss at Oregon State last Saturday.
“He’s starting to get more confident as a player,” said junior guard Kobe Johnson, who had 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists. “And he’s starting to play his game.
“When he first came back, he was in a [tighter] minute restriction and he [was] a little anxious about what to do. But now he’s starting to find his groove and become the player that everyone knows him to be.”
The Trojans (7-7, 1-2) got big games from their best players. Johnson had a much-needed bounce-back game. Point guard Boogie Ellis scored 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. And Collier had 13 points and seven assists with no turnovers to the delight of head coach Andy Enfield.
After USC lost back-to-back games at Oregon and Oregon State last week, Enfield made it clear to his team that he will sit anyone who doesn’t take care of the ball, cut offense or defend.
“I’m tired of seeing turnovers and no ball movement, no player movement,” Enfield said. “And if you go stand, you’ll get out of the game, so it’s pretty simple.”
James played 18 minutes against California (4-10, 0-3) after logging a season-high 20 minutes in the previous game against Oregon State.
Enfield said James’ minutes restriction is decided by the medical staff and “that’s going to be a week-to-week thing.”
“He is a freshman, [and] This was his sixth game,” Enfield said of James. “He’s developing as a player and it’s nice to see him and see him. He is a typical freshman, but he had a slight disadvantage over most freshmen, as he was out for five months and had to return mid-season. It’s very difficult to do.
“His effort tonight was great on the defensive end and [he had] four deviations… Then we need that bench production. “Our bench players have to be productive and he was fantastic tonight.”