USC doesn’t exactly shoot the lights out in 76-66 loss to No. 9 Oregon but still has hope for NCAA berth

Oregon forward Dwayne Benjamin celebrates after dunking the ball over USC forward Chimezie Metu, not pictured, during the first half of a game on March 5 at Galen Center.

Oregon forward Dwayne Benjamin celebrates after dunking the ball over USC forward Chimezie Metu, not pictured, during the first half of a game on March 5 at Galen Center.

(Danny Moloshok / Associated Press)
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The lights went out on USC on Saturday. The Trojans were teetering on a blowout. Ninth-ranked Oregon led big in the first half, and the Ducks were hot.

Then, without warning, the Galen Center lights cut out. The arena went dark. The delay lasted 22 minutes.

There is a metaphor there, somewhere.

“It was weird,” USC guard Katin Reinhardt said.

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Eventually, after the lights came on, Oregon won, 76-66. The Ducks clinched an outright regular-season Pac-12 Conference title. The Trojans inched back toward the NCAA tournament bubble.

The regular season over, USC will be seeded seventh in the Pac-12 tournament. A familiar opponent awaits on Wednesday: UCLA

That will provide a late audition for the Trojans. But have they done enough in the regular season to earn an NCAA berth?

“I’m not going to talk about the NCAA tournament,” USC Coach Andy Enfield said. “We’re focused on Wednesday.”

That was a theme.

“We’re just ready for Wednesday,” Reinhardt said.

“We want to focus on Wednesday,” forward Nikola Jovanovic said.

Most NCAA tournament projections still list USC (20-11, 9-9 in the Pac-12) in the tournament field, but with little room for error.

“All I know is we play in one of the toughest leagues in the country, we’ve got 11 top-100 wins, which is a lot,” Enfield said before quickly adding: “I’m not going to speculate about the NCAA tournament.”


Enfield mentioned several times that USC has 20 wins.

But the Trojans limp into the postseason having lost six of eight. Their explosive offense has faltered. Most puzzling, they haven’t shot the ball well.

On Saturday, they shot 41.5%, to Oregon’s 47.5%. The Trojans are just 2-9 when an opponent outshoots them.

USC made just four of 19 three-point attempts, and missed all eight second-half tries.

“They just made shots at the end of the game,” Reinhardt said of the Ducks (25-6, 14-4).

The Trojans did not. They missed short jumpers and baby hooks. They missed contested shots and open looks.

“We missed floaters, we missed layups, we missed wide-open threes, we missed free throws,” Enfield said.

He added: “When we do lose games, usually it’s because of our field-goal percentage.”

That has been a nagging trend. USC had its best shooting performance of the season in the first half against Oregon State on Wednesday. But the bricks returned Saturday.

So far, no one has found an explanation. Enfield suggested Saturday that point guards Jordan McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs, who log long minutes, could be worn down.


Only three USC players scored in double figures: Jovanovic (12 points), Reinhardt (12) and McLaughlin (10). Tyler Dorsey led Oregon with 19.

The Trojans trailed big in the first half. The Ducks punished USC misses with quick transition scores. At one point, Oregon mounted an 11-0 run. It led by as many as 15 points.

Then the lights went out. USC said a surge on the city grid caused the outage. Fans held up cellphone flashlights. Eventually, staffers opened the Galen Center curtains so the teams had enough light to stay loose.

After the 22-minute delay, USC appeared rejuvenated. Eight minutes into the second half, the Trojans had taken the lead.

“So maybe when you’re down 12, just turn the lights out and regroup,” Enfield said.

But the run did not last. The shooting dried up.

“We were just wide open and missed,” Enfield said.

USC clung to life with about two minutes remaining. Jovanovic blocked Dorsey at the rim. McLaughlin hustled down the floor.

His three-point shot clanged off the rim. On the next possession, Oregon’s Dwayne Benjamin glided to the top of the arc. He launched his own three-point shot. He did not miss.


Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand