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USC challenges No. 5 Oregon for a while

It was about 15 minutes after USC[1] let a winnable game slip away Saturday evening, 81-70 to No. 5 Oregon[2], that players began sliding into side gyms at the Galen Center. Shaqquan Aaron walked past a security guard on his way to his typical postgame shooting routine.

Still love you guys, the security guard said. A flight of stairs below, Bennie Boatwright had on headphones, holding a basketball. He, too, wanted more shots.

Boatwright had been absent because of an injury in USC s first loss to Oregon, a 23-point road setback in December. The Trojans had hoped his presence would be decisive. But he made only never found a rhythm, making only three of 15 shots.

He feels worse than anyone in this arena, Coach Andy Enfield[3] said. Worse, times 10. USC (21-5, 8-5 in Pac-12[4] Conference) had opportunities but kicked away chances for easy points. Chimezie Metu couldn t finish two alley-oop tries. Jordan McLaughlin missed a dunk early. De Anthony Melton gifted Oregon two points when he committed a lane violation after a missed one-and-one free throw. The Trojans committed 16 turnovers, several on inbound passes.

We didn t turn the ball over against the press, Enfield said. I thought our guards were just a little off tonight, as far as their decision making.

The shooting didn t help. Trojans shot 37% and made six of 27 three-point shots.

We missed so many shots, Enfield said. You re not going to beat Oregon shooting 22% from the three-point line. USC could ve used the resume-making victory. When members of the team awoke Saturday, they learned they had been excluded from the national basketball conversation. A sneak peek of the NCAA tournament was unveiled, showing the top 16 projected teams. Three Pac-12 teams made the cut UCLA[5], Arizona[6] and Oregon. USC was not one of them. It had been expecting the snub.

To me, it doesn t really matter, point guard Jordan McLaughlin said Friday. It s subject to change.

The change, USC hoped, would come Saturday. USC already had a similar resume to the Pac-12 triumvirate. USC s 21-4 record before Saturday was the same as Oregon s. But it needed a head-to-head win. The chances looked dim with five minutes remaining, when Oregon (22-4, 11-2) led by 10 points. But USC began to seize the momentum after Boatwright made two crucial plays. Down eight points, he made a three-pointer. Two possessions later, with less than four minutes left, he worked his way to the interior against forward Dillon Brooks, muscled up a shot and drew a foul. It was Brooks fifth foul.

Oregon would have to play without its leading scorer. Brooks finished with 21 points. For USC, Metu scored 16 and Stewart scored 15. Boatwright made both free throws to cut the deficit to three points. On Thursday, Oregon had squandered a 19-point lead against UCLA. Now, a double-digit lead late was slipping away.

The Ducks would not allow it to happen again. On the next possession, Tyler Dorsey made a three-pointer with two seconds left on the shot clock. Jordan Bell muscled inside for a score on the next possession. Then Dorsey made another. Dylan Ennis made two free throws. Oregon owned the final three minutes, scoring on four possessions in a row. Brooks, Stewart said, became a martyr.

USC has made a habit this season of mounting furious second-half assaults to overcome a first-half hole. The routine failed against a more unforgiving opponent. Two mid-half lapses doomed USC. Midway through the first half, Oregon tore off a 12-2 run. USC erased the early deficit early into the second half, and claimed a four-point lead, only to give up another 11-2 run at nearly the same point in the half.

I think when they watch the film they ll see the little things make a big difference, Enfield said.

He added: We played hard. We just didn t play well enough to beat a top-five team in the country.

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Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand[8]

References

  1. ^ USC Trojans (www.latimes.com)
  2. ^ Oregon Ducks (www.latimes.com)
  3. ^ Andy Enfield (www.latimes.com)
  4. ^ Pac-12 Conference (www.latimes.com)
  5. ^ UCLA Bruins (www.latimes.com)
  6. ^ Arizona Wildcats (www.latimes.com)
  7. ^

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