— It should be noted that USC’s basketball team did have a four-game winning streak this season that included victories over UCLA, Washington State, Washington and Stanford.
It should also be noted that the Trojans (14-17 overall, 9-9 Pac-12) finished off the Pac-12 Conference season with consecutive losses at Washington and Washington State and then had two players, starter Dewayne Dedmon and backup James Blasczyk, be involved in a series of brawls in downtown Spokane early Sunday.
Curfew was broken and maybe much more. Dedmon and Blasczyk, have been indefinitely suspended and neither will be available when the Trojans attempt to start another four-game winning streak Wednesday at 6 p.m. in a Pac-12 tournament game against Utah (13-17, 4-13) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
If the Trojans, seeded seventh, are to play in the NCAA tournament they will have to win four games here, starting with the matchup against 10th-seeded Utah.
It was two days after USC won at Utah, 76-59, on Jan. 12 that coach Kevin O’Neill was fired by Athletic Director Pat Haden and Bob Cantu became the interim coach.
Larry Krystkowiak, Utah’s coach, said it had been a surprise to hear about O’Neill. “It doesn’t happen very often when a coach wins a game and loses a job,” he said Tuesday.
Asked whether he feels at a disadvantage because he’ll be seeing a differently configured USC team because of the suspensions, Krystkowiak said, “Not at all.”
USC is also gaining one player.
Cantu said Tuesday after the Trojans practiced here that forward Ari Stewart, who missed a month because of a broken left hand suffered in a win over Washington on Feb. 10, has practiced this week and will be available against Utah.
Mostly, though, Cantu spoke about his hopes for USC’s third big man, Omar Oraby. The 7-foot-2 center will start in place of the 7-foot Dedmon. Oraby has averaged 13.9 minutes a game this year and has had the luxury of knowing he could be aggressive, not worry so much about fouls or about getting tired because there were Dedmon and the 7-1 Blasczyk to have his back.
Cantu said, “Omar is going to have to focus on getting his wind. At dead balls, free throws, get your wind, pace yourself. The key for him is to get bursts of 30 or 40 seconds of rest and to stay out of foul trouble. He’s going to be a big part of what we do.”
If Oraby’s scoring average of 5.9 points a game were projected to 40 minutes, he would average 17.1 points a game.
That’s in an imaginary world that will become more real for Oraby on Wednesday.
Cantu also said that he has been stressing to Oraby to play defense with his hands high in the air. “Make them shoot over you,” Cantu said. “If your hands are on your waist, it looks like a foul. It’s a lot harder to shoot over length.”
Repeating what he said Monday, Cantu said there is no return date set for Dedmon and Blasczyk. He said neither player came to Las Vegas.
“They’re back in L.A. We’re still waiting, gathering information.” Cantu said.
Asked who would determine whether Dedmon and Blasczyk might be allowed to return at some point, Cantu said, “I’m sure it will be my decision.”