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December 9, 2012Omar Oraby showed up, alll 7-feet-2 and 270 pounds of him, at halftime and the one hopeful thing about this 3-6 USC basketball team, other than the quality of its opponents, has to be the Rice transfer's play in the 71-57 loss Saturday to a 10-1 Minnesota team.
Because as important as what Oraby's 15 points and four rebounds in a mammoth final 20 minutes when USC stalemated the big, deep, veteran Gophers in trailing by two, 33-31, over that time was what the Cairo resident had to say after the game.
USC can win the Pac-12. "I do think we can," he said quietly.
And as much as USC's record shows how overscheduled the Trojans have been against the likes of Illinois, Marquette, San Diego State, Nebraska, New Mexico and now Minnesota, "We've played a lot of good teams," Oraby said. "We can't get down on ourselves."
And except for maybe not playing the kind of defense that's the one thing Kevin O'Neill's teams usually try to do, "We just have to come out and play with more energy, we just have to start faster."
But that's where KO comes in. Oraby was on the bench to start. And the offense was immediately stalemated. Down 9-0 is not a good place to be against a team whose only loss was to Duke.
You start that bad against a team like Minnesota and you're not going to catch them at the end, to paraphrase O'Neill.
And now O'Neill is looking "to play new guys."
Well, that's one solution although the guys he played in this game were his call. They didn't put themselves in the lineup. And according to O'Neill, now they will be going to Oraby -- and through Oraby.
"He's got size, he can catch, he can rebound and he can block shots," O'Neill said. But he was on the bench when USC shot its way out of it and even with a 7-2, 270-pounder, it was too little, too late.
Too bad Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, in winning his 500th career game, knew that. And coached to it.
"We knew coming in USC was a talented, strong, physical team," Smith said, and "they have played good teams. We needed to come out ready to play and we got off to a great start,"
That 9-0 lead right away was just what Tubby wanted. And USC?
"We had another six or seven minutes, this time at the start of the game, where guys played with low energy and that got us into a hole," O'Neill said. And now his solution is to find new guys.
Well, that's one solution.
Downplaying his 500th win, Smith said "I haven't made a meaningful shot since 1973 so it's all about the players."
But most of these Minnesota kids were with Tubby for just a fraction of those 500 wins including one national title at Kentucky.
So in watching what happened here on this night, if it were all about the players, USC would have walked out of here after a game down to the wire. Only they didn't.
Because it wasn't "all about the players."
No, it was also about the coaches. Advantage: Minnesota.
Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFootball.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.