Bennie Boatwright’s senior season at USC has been a lesson in keeping perspective, and Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion provided another test.
On one hand, Boatwright had one of his best games as a Trojan — 25 points, a career-high 15 rebounds and six assists, matching his career high — and USC took its crosstown rival down to the wire in a classic that had everything but bigger-picture high stakes.
On the other hand, Boatwright missed two potential game-winning three-point shots in the final minute of regulation, forcing an overtime period that ended with the Bruins claiming a 93-88 victory thanks to a 30-foot shot by UCLA’s Jaylen Hands with a ridiculous degree of difficulty.
Boatwright’s looks at the net were far more reasonable but did not fall, marking the third time in Pac-12 play that USC’s star missed a deciding shot.
Boatwright did make a winner against Arizona State, though, and he’ll be ready to try again the next time the Trojans find themselves in that position.
After Thursday night’s game, Boatwright handled questions with grace, frequently flashing a knowing smile that could only come from someone who has learned to handle disappointment.
“I always feel lucky,” Boatwright said. “You win some and lose some, but you live to fight another day.”
In the movie, Ice Cube’s character, protagonist Craig Jones, is a well-meaning guy who gets dragged into a drug deal gone bad, and his life proceeds to fall apart hilariously.
The Trojans may not be able to fully relate, but they would have every reason to feel snake-bit given their 1-6 record in games decided by five points or fewer.
“Some seasons,” coach Andy Enfield said, “you have a lot of luck, lucky bounces at the end of games. You make a shot, the other team misses a shot. We’ve had a lot of unlucky things happen to us at the end of games. Like tonight, Hands throws in a 30-footer at the end of the shot clock, just caught the ball and threw it up there. Stuff like that.”
Enfield then rattled off the damage. Boatwright missed a clean look at a winner at Oregon State before USC lost in overtime.
He got the ball exactly where he wanted it at Stanford and missed another potential winning jumper from near the right edge of the foul line.
Against Colorado at Galen Center, Boatwright passed up a potential winning shot, and Derryck Thornton missed an open three from the top of the key.
Thursday, the score was 82-82 with 19 seconds left when USC inbounded the ball.
Enfield had freshman point guard Elijah Weaver handle the ball against UCLA’s zone defense. Weaver waited so long to get the play moving that USC’s bench started frantically motioning him to get going.
The plan was to load Boatwright and Jonah Mathews on one side of the zone and get one of their best shooters a look, but the possession was rushed.
Boatwright popped out to the top of the key, got the pass and heaved a three that clanged off the backboard.
“You can’t script exactly how the last possession or last two minutes of a game go,” Enfield said. “Players have to go make plays. Bennie missed another one. We tried to put the ball in our guy’s hands that brought us here, and you can’t get upset. Everybody succeeds and fails sometimes. Unfortunately this year the ball hasn’t bounced our way at the end.”
Enfield said he felt for Boatwright.
“He played so hard,” Enfield said. “He’s given everything he has. We understand how badly he wants to win and how badly he wanted those shots to go in.”