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Trojans play tough despite loss of postseason

USC’s postseason chances were buried on a Sunday.

Immediately after that, many wondered whether the team would still be in mourning about its loss of what might have been, especially since those chances were laid to rest amid an eight-game winning streak.

After that Sunday, when the university imposed sanctions over allegations surrounding former player O.J. Mayo, the team lost its next two games, and the many who wondered surely gave the team a pass, knowing what the team had gone through.

“It probably makes for good print for everybody to say we had a hangover from the sanctions and all that, but. . . ,” said USC Coach Kevin O’Neill, denying any such hangover existed.

Yet in its next game, USC routed UCLA by 21 points, its largest victory margin against the Bruins since 1945.

“I was curious whether it changed their psyche after they heard it and went on the road and dropped a couple, but they sure looked impressive against UCLA,” Washington State Coach Ken Bone said

If the Trojans’ psyche is damaged, it also didn’t seem so in their 26-point win Saturday against Washington, a team picked to finish second in the Pacific 10 Conference that has arguably the league’s top player, Quincy Pondexter.

“I think every team would want our psyche to be affected,” O’Neill said. “That’s kind of the way leagues go, like I don’t want any other team in the league to win except us. . . . Now, when [Pac-10 teams] go outside our conference, I always want us to win.”

Asked why his players seem to have been unaffected, O’Neill simply said, “We have character guys.”

Sub consciousness

Most coaches will empty their bench late during blowout victories. But not O’Neill. His team held a 24-point lead with two minutes left against Washington, yet no substitutions were made.

“I’m very seldom going to empty the bench,” he said. “I just don’t believe in it. If those guys were going to get minutes the other night, they were going to get it for a minute and a half. I don’t have any interest in playing walk-ons.

“Washington had their guys in till the end of the game,” he added. “If they sub their guys, then I’m more apt to sub. But they were still trying to win the game with 2 1/2 minutes left.”

baxter.holmes@latimes.com


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