Sports

Trojans struggle to close out games

With recent losses, USC has fallen to bottom of Pac-12

There has been a buzzer-beater, a three-overtime thriller and a crucial late turnover that determined their final fate. At times, free-throw shooting has been to blame. In other games, late shots didn't fall or the defense broke down at the wrong time.

The USC men's basketball team is running out of ways to lose.

The Trojans have dropped eight in a row and are 1-10 in the Pac-12 Conference, two games behind Washington, the next closest team. A few of those losses have been blowouts, but recently several games have come down to the final possession. And none have gone USC's way.

"I think they've really come together closer as a team, in our misery," USC Coach Andy Enfield said with a weary laugh. "I say that as kind of a joke."

There is little room for anything besides gallows humor. Against California last Thursday, the Trojans lost by one point after a desperate three-pointer went in at the buzzer. The Trojans led late against Stanford on Sunday but couldn't close. The previous week, USC missed several chances to win in three overtimes against Colorado.

Enfield said he is pleased with the team's effort, despite demoralizing losses. The defense, he said, has improved "tremendously," and better shot selection has created easier baskets.

Now, he said, USC must learn how to shoot free throws under pressure, get key stops and rebound.

"We've learned the hard way, put it that way," Enfield said.

The experience, he said, will help a team full of underclassmen. USC is the fourth-youngest team in the nation — the youngest in the power-five conferences, in terms of minutes played by class, according to StatSheet.com.

"We know we are not going to the NCAA tournament unless we win the Pac-12 tournament," Enfield said. "So we've made it very clear in our program that our goal is to improve as individuals and improve as a team every week."

USC VS. OREGON

When: 6 p.m. PST, Wednesday.

Where: Galen Center.

On the air: TV: ESPN2; Radio: 690.

Records: USC 9-14, 1-10 in Pac-12; Oregon 17-7, 7-4.

Update: The Trojans' losing skid has reached a season-high eight games, and four of the losses have been by four points or less. That leaves USC in last place in the Pac-12 by two games. The Ducks have won three in a row. In the last meeting between these teams, Oregon took a 16-2 lead and held on to win, 75-67. Oregon senior guard Joseph Young is averaging 19.7 points a game, second in the Pac-12.

zach.helfand@latimes.com

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