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Missed chances, shots doom USC

It was a night of missed opportunities, both big and small, for the USC men's basketball team.

The Trojans had a chance to prove that they, not preseason pick Washington, were the team to beat in the Pac-10 Conference. And they had the Huskies on the ropes for most of the game.

But USC couldn't solve Washington's zone defense or match the Huskies' depth. Washington won, 73-67, in front of 5,584 fans on Wednesday night at Galen Center in the league opener for both schools.

Heading into the game, the Trojans touted themselves as conference favorites. Coach Kevin O'Neill curbed their enthusiasm afterward.

"I think we're a decent team," O'Neill said. "We want to win the title. But we were picked anywhere from sixth to 10th. Expectations sometimes exceed reality. We're going to have to play our way into the hunt now."

Washington (9-3) came in as the hunted and wore the role well. The Huskies overcome a 12-point first-half deficit and pulled away in overtime behind a balanced attack. Senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning and freshman Terrence Ross had 18 points apiece to lead five double-figure scorers.

While Washington achieved balance, USC (8-6) struggled to support junior forward Nikola Vucevic, who had a career night. Vucevic had a career-best 28 points, plus 14 rebounds. He also made all 14 of his foul shots.

Vucevic also made two of the Trojans' five 3-point baskets, and that wasn't a good thing. The rest of the team shot just 3 of 18 from beyond the arc.

Overall, USC shot only 34.5 percent – 28.3 without Vucevic's 6-of-9 performance.

"We did not play particularly well, especially at the offensive end," O'Neill said. "We had good looks that just didn't go in.

"It's hard to win shooting the ball like that."

The big opportunity to leapfrog Washington was lost because of a series of small ones that were squandered.

USC had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation after Washington's Isaiah Thomas missed a 3-point shot with about six seconds left. The Trojans eschewed a timeout – O'Neill said that was his call – but guard Jio Fontan fumbled the ball near midcourt and couldn't get off or set up a decent shot.

Earlier in the second half, trailing by four, the Trojans committed turnovers on consecutive possessions. Alex Stepheson fumbled a Vucevic bounce pass out of bounds, and Fontan stepped on the baseline.

In overtime, with Washington up 68-64, the Huskies' Venoy Overton missed two free throws. But the rebound caromed away from USC's Marcus Simmons and Vucevic, giving the ball back to Washington. Overton then sank a pair to make it 70-64.

"We victimized ourselves by not getting big defensive rebounds and wasted an incredible performance by Nik," O'Neill said. "When you're playing a top-20-caliber team like Washington, you're not going to win not doing the little things down the stretch."

USC's homestand continues Friday afternoon against Washington State. It's a quick turnaround for a team seeking to rebound.

"I have great confidence that we'll bounce back and play a great game," O'Neill said. "That's our job."

NOTES
Sophomore forward Evan Smith had his left arm in a sling after having surgery last week to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. He is out for the season. ... Among those in attendance: former USC guard Dwight Lewis; current football players Marshall Jones, Torin Harris and De'Von Flournoy; and linebackers coach Joe Barry. ... USC's new athletic building will be called John McKay Hall, a school spokesman confirmed.

 

Read more at ocregister.com

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