The Trojans showed promise in the first game under Bob Cantu. But the ghost of Kevin O'Neill has not left the building, not just yet.
Coming about as close as you can come, USC's Trojans missed three shots at the end for a tie or the win before falling 76-74 to Oregon's 21st-ranked Ducks at Galen Center.
Too many missed free throws (12 of 32) and too few rebounds (a 41-30 deficit against the smaller Ducks) sealed USC's doom in Game 1 of the Post-KO Era.
"Tough loss," said J.T. Terrell, the man who may have benefited the most for the Trojans' more upbeat style with his game-high 22 points that included four three-pointers. But the balanced Ducks put all five starters in double digits and whenever they needed a play, they got one.
"We didn't give in," Cantu said, and they could have, down 75-65 with 2:57 left and the lively crowd of 4,722 starting to stream out. "We had a couple of tips at the end."
And a bad three on their final possession that saw Dewayne Dedmon and Eric Wise battling and futilely firing the ball back up at point-blank range and missing.
If there was a good stat, it was the 10 turnovers. USC seemed much more under control with two days of interim coach Cantu. "But we need time to make improvements."
They have the manpower. To quote Cantu, "Dana [Altman] is a great coach," Cantu said, and this [Oregon] team can win the league." And yet this Trojans team took the Ducks (4-0 in the Pac-12) to the wire as it fell to 7-11 (2-3).
USC actually outshot the Ducks -- 45.3 percent (24 of 53) to Oregon's 42.9 (27 of 63). But they needed to hit one of their last three -- and could not. And needed to keep Oregon from beating them 15 to eight on the offensive boards.
But the Trojans' two seven-footers (Dedmon and 7-2 Omar Oraby) missed their first six shots in the game, finished five of 14, and got pushed off the blocks way too much by the smaller Ducks who outscored USC 32-26 in the paint.
"We're big and strong and have got to be able to take it to them," Cantu said.
Eric Wise (17 points) and Byron Wesley (11) joined Terrell in double figures for USC.
Cantu's loss in his first game drops the record for USC's seven most recent head coaches to 1-6. Only O'Neill won his first game as a USC head coach. Tim Floyd, Jim Saia, Henry Bibby, Charlie Parker and George Raveling also lost theirs.
"We didn't mean to do that," Altman said of the last-second scare with USC's final misses. "I five USC credit on their defense. . . I wasn't surprised at all (at USC's play). If you saw their Utah game, they had them by 17 on the road. I told our guys we were going to have a fight. We were fortunate they didn't shoot as well as they did at Utah."
Dan Weber covers the Trojans program