Cal nips USM

Published 5:41 pm Thursday, November 15, 2007

DeVon Hardin dunked, swatted and showed everyone why he is expected to be a first-round NBA draft pick next year.

Hardin had 18 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks, leading California to a season-opening 67-59 victory over Southern Miss on Wednesday night.

Patrick Christopher scored nine straight points during one first-half stretch and finished with 19, but it was Hardin’s show in the second half after Southern Miss made a run.

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Hardin, who returned to Cal for his final season rather than bolting for the NBA, is healthy after playing in only 11 games in an injury-shortened junior year. He sustained a stress fracture in his left foot Dec. 19 against Furman and sat out the remainder of the year.

The 6-foot-11, 250-pound Hardin is in tiptop shape after a summer spent working out for NBA teams, and blocked one shot into the first row of seats behind the Southern Miss bench late in the game. He pulled down a one-handed rebound with authority early. He aggressively defended along the perimeter while exhibiting his quick size-19 feet before hitting a baseline jumper moments later on the other end.

Cal’s Ryan Anderson had to make several trips to the training room with what the school called an eye problem but still managed 11 points and five rebounds.

Jeremy Wise, Conference USA’s freshman of the year last season, was held to eight points on 3-for-15 shooting.

Courtney Beasley scored 13 points and Sai’Quon Stone 12 for the Golden Eagles (1-1), who beat Belhaven 92-45 in their first game Monday but struggled offensively against the Golden Bears.

Southern Miss tied the game at 46 with about 10 minutes remaining, then went ahead on Stone’s layin at 9:26. The Golden Eagles went hard to the offensive glass to create second-chance opportunities, but Hardin’s athleticism was too much down the stretch. He dunked on back-to-back baskets in the closing minutes.

Cal must prepare for a tough Pac-10 Conference, which had six teams in the preseason Top 25. The Bears are picked to finish seventh, but made a statement when they stunned then-No. 4 UCLA 76-69 in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament back in March.

Sophomore Nikola Knezevic, Cal’s lone scholarship point guard available, hit a 3-pointer with 5:01 left to pull the Bears within 54-53, then Hardin had a go-ahead dunk on a putback the next time down for the lead. Eric Vierneisel also had a key 3 in the stretch.

This marked the first meeting between the schools and Southern Miss is 1-4 all-time against the Pac-10.

The injury-depleted Bears have won 10 of 12 home openers during 12th-year coach Ben Braun’s tenure — and also 14 of the last 15 games against non-conference opponents in Haas Pavilion.

Sophomore point guard Jerome Randle underwent a biopsy on his kidney late last month and will likely miss at least a month.

The Bears are already without freshman forward Omondi Amoke, who is recovering from surgery for a vascular abnormality in his calf. Junior forward Theo Robertson is unlikely to play until the start of the Pac-10 season as he recuperates from hip surgery in April.

Cal did get 7-footer Jordan Wilkes back after he sat out last season with a knee injury. Wilkes’ 3 with just more than 5 minutes remaining in the first half put the Bears ahead 29-17 on the way to a 33-28 lead at the break.