USC missteps at the end to lose to Stanford, 54-53

USC took to a live court Wednesday for the first time since whatever postseason it might have had was axed.

The Trojans didn’t play as if they were wallowing in self pity or trying to overcome the fact they are paying for someone else’s sins.

Instead, they played as they had all season -- leaning heavily on defense but coming up short against Stanford, 54-53, after missing repeated tip-in attempts as time expired.

“For me, the news [about sanctions] had nothing to do with this game,” USC Coach Kevin O’Neill said.

The loss snaps an eight-game winning streak by USC, 10-5 overall and 2-1 in Pacific 10 Conference.

It came down to two plays by USC forward Leonard Washington, one a miracle, the other a mistake.

Washington tied the score at 53 on a bank-in three-pointer with 32 seconds left.

But on the next possession, he reached in for a steal while guarding Stanford’s Jarrett Mann and was called for a foul.

Mann made the second of two free throws, and USC had 10.6 seconds left, trailing, 54-53.

The ball went to point guard Mike Gerrity, who drove the floor for a layup. It went awry, but several Trojans missed tip-in attempts before the buzzer sounded.

“We just weren’t able to finish it,” Gerrity said.

It was USC’s eighth straight loss at Maples Pavilion, in which an announced crowd of 6,520 watched Wednesday’s game.

For Stanford (7-7, 1-1), it was a bounce-back after a 92-66 crushing in its Pac-10 opener at California.

O’Neill said Washington’s foul was a “mistake,” but that USC should have made one of the tip-in chances to end the game.

O’Neill also took issue with USC’s first-half effort; the Trojans trailed, 31-28 at the half.

“For the first time, for me, all year -- and we got blown out a couple times when we didn’t have a couple players -- I thought we had a total lack of effort in the first half,” he said.

“When you have that [effort] on the road, you’re going to lose.”

Gerrity said: “We really didn’t show up for most of the game and if we played like we did those last two minutes, it’s probably a different ball game.”

USC was carried by guard Dwight Lewis, who had 22 points, and forward Alex Stepheson, who had 13.

The duo matched Stanford’s usual high-scoring combo of Landry Fields and Jeremy Green, who combined for 31 points, nearly bucket for bucket down the stretch.

Stanford was held to a season low in points, which is nothing new for USC, which came into the game ranked first in scoring defense (54.5).

“They’re great defenders,” Fields said. “That’s their game, they really get into you.”

Thanks to the postseason ban, self-imposed by the university relating to allegations surrounding former player O.J. Mayo, USC’s season is now down to 15 games, with the aim to win the conference outright.

Athletic Director Mike Garrett, who imposed the sanctions, watched from just to the side of USC’s bench. Opposite him, some Stanford students had their fun.

Sign of the night: “Pac-9 Tourney?”

Since the season ends March 6, USC’s tourney is now.