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January 26, 2014

Trojans fight back then fall

Of ourse they "coulda' won," as Coach Andy Enfield said later.

And probably they "shoulda' won," as point guard Pe'Shon Howard admitted sadly.

But for the sixth time in seven Pac-12 outings, the USC Trojans didn't.

Not for lack of effort, as might have been the case in the first five league losses. In both halves, USC fought back, taking leads that seemed to surprise Stanford. Then the Trojans got shocked in just the first two possessions of overtime.

"We had the momentum," Howard said after a 13-point effort with a game-high seven steals.

Indeed they did, coming from seven down with 3:54 left and five down with 34 seconds left to tie this one for the 10th time at 61. And with 2.2 seconds, USC had the ball after shutting down the Cardinal twice in the final 17 seconds and getting possession back.

That's when the brain cramps started. After a timeout and an inbounds pass to 7-foot-2 Omar Oraby at midcourt, a cutting guard was to come by for the final shot. Not eactly Bryce Drew of Valparaiso/NCAA fame, but something. Only there was no cutter. No guard at all. Did the Trojans even have a fifth player on the floor? If so, he was hiding. Oraby's shot wouldn't have won him a scholarship in one of those halftime, half-court Midnight Madness contests.

Unfortunately, that lack of focus continued through an overtime that saw the Trojans jump out behind and never get back in it the way they did each half. Five minutes just isn't enough time to recover.

Before USC knew it, barely two minutes into overtime, the 61-61 regulation finish had become a 70-64 Stanford edge with two quick threes the difference. Not that that should have been a surprise. Stanford had a 27-12 edge from three-point range, hitting nine of 23 to USC's four of 13.

Otherwise this one was pretty much a standoff across the stat lines, as 5,378 energized fans at Galen Center found themselves fired up and making the kind of noise we're not all that much accustomed to here. And then it was over.

"We played very hard," Enfield said. "We gave ourselves a chance to win. They made some tough shots [in overtime]. We missed some easy ones." And in a couple of quick possessions, it was out of reach almost.

"We made some mistakes in overtime," freshman Strahinj Gavrilovic said after a solid 12-point performance in 28 minutes. And Stanford didn't in an 18-10 win over the extra period that saw the Pac-12's leading scorer Chasson Randle enter with just 10 points in regulation and finish with 17.

The Cardinal, now 13-6 (and 4-3 in the Pac-12) to USC's 10-10 (1-6), clearly had more balance with five double-figure scorers. And yet they couldn't shake a USC team that often beat them down the floor and forced 14 turnovers resulting in 34 points in the paint to 20 for the Cardinal. Many of those came on just getting there first.

But the Trojans turned it back over 15 times themselves. And missed 11 free throws (19 of 30) to eight misses for a Stanford team (20 of 28) that was clearly willing to put the shaky-free-throw-shooting USC team on the line.

"A tough game for us," Enfield said. And another "now-you-see'em, now-you-don't," moment for the Trojans. Nikola Jovanovic followed his 23-point performance against Cal with five Sunday. Julian Jacobs, after 12 against the Bears, was shut out here.

But J.T. Terrell, after struggling for five points against Cal, finished with 13 and eight rebounds with a couple of them amazingly athletic follow-up slams on the offensive boards.

Leading the way, again, was Byron Wesley with a quiet 18 points in 41 minutes but he missed a couple of layups and followed with an ill-advised foul that pretty much sealed USC's overtime fate.

Enfield said that "playing hard" and giving themselves "a chance to win," was "as a coach, that's all you can ask for." Not sure he means that.

Chances to win matter when you actually win them. This was one of those chances when the win was there for the taking. And then it wasn't.

Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFootball.com. You can reach him at weber@uscfootball.com.


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