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After four straight losses, USC needs four wins in four days to reach NCAA tournament

After four straight losses, USC needs four wins in four days to reach NCAA tournament
USC forward Bennie Boatwright looks on during the second half against Colorado on Saturday in Boulder, Colo. Colorado won 78-67. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

The USC men’s basketball team finds itself in the unenviable position this week of carrying a four-game losing streak into the Pac-12 tournament, a test which will require the Trojans to win four games in a row to emerge as champions and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

For every reason one could find to make a convincing argument for USC as a contender to win the league tournament, which begins Wednesday with the No. 8 seed Trojans taking on the No. 9 seed Arizona Wildcats, there are two reasons to counter that enthusiasm.

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It has been that kind of year for USC, which can only hope that its 15-16 overall record is just a sign that luck will inevitably find the Trojans on the Las Vegas Strip at T-Mobile Arena and attach itself to them through the weekend.

“Well,” USC coach Andy Enfield said, “we’ve been in a lot of close games. Unfortunately, we have not won a lot of close games. It’s been frustrating because our record could be better than what it is. However, you have to play for 40 minutes. The games we’ve lost, the common theme is that we have struggled to get a key defensive stop in the last minute and a half of those games. And we’ve missed four last-second shots.”

Enfield, whose sixth season at USC has become his most disappointing campaign, can look at the numbers from conference play and see a path to better results this week. The Trojans are fourth in field-goal percentage defense and first in three-point shooting percentage. Like last season, they are first in assists.

“We’re optimistic,” Enfield said. “We know that Arizona, their season has been a lot like ours, some ups and downs. But both teams are talented and really in the league this year on any given night any team can win a game. I think all the teams are probably excited to go to Vegas and start a new season that is one game and you’re out. We’ll hopefully give it our best shot.”

To keep the dream alive, USC will have to rebound better defensively and make more free throws. The Trojans are last in the Pac-12 in those areas.

What they do have is a senior star in Bennie Boatwright who is capable of getting hot and lifting them to a couple of upsets. Boatwright, who averaged 20.1 points per game in league play, was named to the All-Pac-12 first team Monday.

“Having someone like Bennie is a big help,” Enfield said, “gives us a chance to basically be in every game that we play. Bennie’s had a terrific offensive year in the league, and in the games we’ve won, our interior players have played pretty good defense. We need Bennie and the rest of our team to come out and play together on both ends of the floor.”

UP NEXT

VS. ARIZONA

When: Wednesday, noon PDT.

Where: T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 710.

Update: The Wildcats (17-14 and 8-10 in the Pac-12) finished tied for eighth in the league standings with USC and Stanford. Arizona’s struggles this year have been in large part because the Wildcats have not had a player emerge as a go-to scorer. Brandon Randolph leads Arizona with just 12.8 points per game, and the sophomore wing has regressed during the Pac-12 season.

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