Perhaps, the law of averages caught up with USC guard Larry Friend. Perhaps, it would have been too coincidental for him to beat Oregon State again as he did in the closing seconds at Corvallis last month.
In any event, Friend missed two free throws with five seconds left in regulation play with the score tied, and Oregon State went on to beat USC, 60-58, in overtime Saturday at the Sports Arena before a crowd of 8,254 and a regional television audience.
So USC had to settle for the co-championship of the Pacific 10 with Washington instead of winning the title outright. The teams have regular-season-ending 13-5 records. The Huskies beat Stanford, 67-47, earlier in the day, making it imperative for the Trojans to win to get sole possesion of first place.
It wasn't a devastating loss for USC in the sense that the Trojans still most likely will participate in the NCAA tournament.
But Washington is the official Pac-10 representive in the NCAA playoffs based on a better overall record than USC. The Huskies finished 22-9 compared to the Trojans' 19-9 record.
Three of Washington's games in Hawaii don't count because of the league's tie-breaking procedure. Still, the Huskies wound up with a better overall record than the Trojans.
Eric Knox, a freshman guard from St. Bernard High School in Playa del Rey, nailed down the win for the Beavers in overtime. He made six straight free throws, the last pair coming with 10 seconds left to provide his team with a four-point lead.
Oregon State converted 10 of 11 free throws in the extra five-minute session and never trailed after the regulation game ended at 50-50.
Friend, a 5-11 junior guard, has excelled in clutch situations this season. His awkward, half-throw, half-shot from 17 feet beat Oregon State, 60-58, in the final two seconds Feb. 4. Coincidentally, USC was on the short end of the same score Saturday.
His two free throws in the closing seconds of USC's first meeting with UCLA Feb. 1 at the Sports Arena were the cushion the Trojans needed to win in double overtime. He also threw an accurate pass that Charlie Simpson converted into a layup as USC beat UCLA in four overtimes Feb. 28 at Pauley Pavilion.
So Friend had done his share in USC's championship season, even if the title is shared with Washington.
Neither Friend nor any of the other USC players were available to be interviewed after the game. The players dressed on campus before the game and quickly returned to school when the game ended.
They couldn't dwell in the Sports Arena locker room because of the Southern California prep regionals that were taking place after the USC-OSU game.
But USC coach Stan Morrison made it clear that his players were not be interviewed. "They don't deserve to talk to you guys," he said. "They better keep their thoughts to themselves and think about the way they played."
Morrison was critical of his team, saying that the offensive execution was terrible in the second half and that USC was also remiss on defense at times.
Steve Woodside, Oregon State's 6-9 center, was virtually unstoppable. The Beavers would spread the court, then get the ball to Woodside, who would wheel past 6-10 Clayton Olivier and other USC defenders to score or draw a foul.
He wound up with 25 points on a 8 of 12 shooting. He played 43 minutes, fouling out with 1:50 remaining in overtime.
"Woodside just ate us alive," Morrison said. "We didn't do a good job on him."
Morrison was obviously not content with a first place tie, even though it was the Trojans' first conference championship in 24 years.
"It's nice to be the co-champions, but we really wanted to be alone," he said. "I thought we had what was needed to be alone. I'm not interested in consolations.
"Remember, I predicted earlier that the conference race would end in a tie. But I didn't want to play a role to fulfill that prophecy."
As the official Pac-10 representative, Washington will most likely be seeded in the West Regional when pairings are announced today.
USC could stay in the West, or it could wind up almost anywhere."
"I don't really want to talk about the NCAA (tournament) now," Morrison said. "They'll probably stick us in Hartford (Conn.). I don't think they're playing in Puerto Rico.
"I'm just embarrassed the way we played. The effort was there but, technically, we didn't do a good job. I hold myself responsbile for that."
Morrison was, perhaps, too harsh on his team. USC was tenacious on defense for most of the game, as was Oregon State.
The Beavers, who finished with a 12-6 conference record (22-8 overall), have had their lapses this season, but, Saturday, they looked like the team that has won or shared the Pac-10 title four of the past five years.
Oregon State led at halftime, 27-24, but USC, with Olivier making some key rebounds, shot into a 38-33 lead with 12 1/2 minutes left in regulation.
Morrison said that USC then had a nine-minute lapse, during which it failed to execute its offensive patterns or communicate.
Nevertheless, USC had possession with the score tied at 50-50 and an opportunity to put Oregon State away. Friend drove the lane and was fouled by OSU guard Darryl Flowers. It was a call that might have been disputed by the Beavers had they lost. Flowers blocked Friend's shot and it wasn't immediately apparent whether contact was made.
Morrison said he realizes he is prejudiced but he is certain that Friend was fouled.
Friend, a 71% foul shooter who has come through so many times for USC in the past, then missed the two foul shots with five seconds left in regulation. Oregon State didn't have time to get off a shot and the game went into overtime.
'Larry Friend has won enough games for us," Morrison said. "We had a play set up where Wayne Carlander would duck under the basket, get a screen from Ronnie Holmes and a take a pass from Clayton Olivier. So Larry missed a couple of free throws. No problem."
USC was always playing catchup in overtime as Woodside provided the Beavers with an early 52-50 lead by making two free throws. Then Knox kept knocking the ball in from the foul line and the Trojans trailed alternately by two to four points.
The last time USC participated in the NCAA tournament Morrison celebrated by doing a cannonball into the pool at Julie's restaurant near campus.
Asked if he had similar plans, Morrison said dourly, "Only if the pool is empty."