Not far from USC's locker room, an Oregon State assistant huddled with a few spectators after Sunday's game. He spoke as if the Beavers had avoided a buzz saw.
"They're scary," he said, multiple times. "They're really good."
A few steps down the same hallway, "they," the 21st-ranked Trojans, gathered in their locker room. They had just lost, 85-70, to Oregon State. For about two minutes, Coach Andy Enfield could be heard yelling.
The two scenes played out moments apart. They were reminders of how quickly USC's fortunes had turned around — and how tenuous any success is in the Pac-12 Conference.
Last week, after wins against Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA, the Trojans were on a high. USC was ranked for the first time since 2008. The rest of the league had taken notice.
Then came the reality check. Sunday's loss, following a loss Thursday to Oregon, completed a road sweep. The Trojans (15-5, 4-3) had been tied for first in the conference. Now they have stumbled back to the middle of the pack, where they are tied with five other teams for third place after Utah (15-5, 4-3) beat Washington (15-6, 5-2) Sunday night.
"I think it's cool we got ranked, we did what we're supposed to do, put ourselves on a national level," guard Katin Reinhardt said. "It doesn't mean anything."
For the second game in a row, USC couldn't make enough open shots. The Trojans lead the conference in three-point field-goal percentage. They hit just 25% on Sunday, their second-worst mark of the season.
They made just 33.9% of all field goals, their season low.
"I thought we took a few contested shots tonight, but for the most part we just missed open shots," Enfield said.
USC took a 40-36 lead into halftime but made just seven field goals in the second half.
Oregon State (12-6, 3-4) began the half with a 7-0 run and followed that with a 9-0 run. Its lead grew to as high as 13.
USC kept close by attacking the lane and searching for contact. At one point, USC drew fouls on five straight possessions. On the next possession, guard Julian Jacobs' layup cut the deficit to six points.
Then guard Gary Payton II took over. He knifed into the lane, wiggled free and made an easy layup. It began another 9-0 run. When USC called a timeout to stop the bleeding, Oregon State Coach Wayne Tinkle ran onto the court, exhorting the crowd.
Payton finished with 22 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and four steals.
For USC, Elijah Stewart scored 16 points and Reinhardt scored 14, both on five-for-11 shooting. Most everyone else was quiet.
Jordan McLaughlin scored just six points with one assist. The trip was his worst of the season. After the game, Enfield revealed why.
"He had a fever for eight days coming into this trip," Enfield said.
At the end of the first half, McLaughlin was hit in the eye. He crumpled to the court. Enfield said McLaughlin, who broke his nose previously this season, suffered a black eye, but he did return for the second half.
Enfield hopes McLaughlin will be healthy by USC's next game, on Thursday.
USC can use him. After last Thursday's loss, USC's spirits remained high. The good feelings are gone. The Trojans will almost certainly fall from the rankings Monday.
"We don't care about that anymore," Reinhardt said. "We just need to win games."