On January 2,, 2010, USC, with a 10-4 record (2-0 in the conference) and an eight game winning streak appeared destined to earn a birth in the NCAA Tournament as well as a Pac-10 championship for the second consecutive season. But this past week has seemed to put a damper on those hopes. Not only were the Trojans barred from the postseason due to self-imposed sanctions, but they also lost in heartbreaking fashion to Stanford and California during the weekly slate of conference games.
Last night's 67-59 loss to Cal served as yet another frustrating reminder of the limits of USC basketball. Despite a 50-43 lead with ten minutes remaining, the Trojans collapsed over the final stretch run. After a few errant shots and inopportune plays, ‘SC watched their lead disappear as Cal went on 24-9 scor ing run to firmly take control of the game and seal the victory.
With the final minutes serving as more of an aberration, the Trojans were actually quite efficient from the offensive end for much of the contest. Generally, ‘SC tends to struggle offensively, shooting a low percentage from the field and committing an abundance of turnovers. But it was a bit different on Saturday night against the Bears. For 40 minutes, the Trojans shot 44.8% and posted merely eleven turnovers - significantly lower than their season average.
For the second consecutive game, Dwight Lewis was instrumental in the team's offensive barrage. Lewis, who has often been maligned by Trojan fans for his inconsistency as a scorer, totaled 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting.
But as goes Dwight Lewis, so go the Trojans. Scoring the bulk of his points within the first 30 minutes, Lewis fell apart during the later stages of the game due to poor shot selection and missed opportunities. Unfortunately, the rest of the team seemed to follow his lead and they came up empty down the stretch.
It was a blown opportunity and incredibly frustrating. But it's ‘SC basketball after all. These things tend to happen.
- Mike Gerrity seems to have cooled off a bit over the course of this small three game roadtrip after such a strong start to the season. In 32 minutes against Cal, the so-called "Baby Nash" went 2-for-8 from the field for 4 points and recorded 0 assists - a significant drop-off from his MVP performance in the Diamond Head Classic during Christmas.
- Marcus Johnson was also a non-factor for the Trojans. Despite showing the ability to be a big-time scorer (19 points in the finals of the Diamond Head Classic against UNLV), he was largely absent against Cal with just 6 points on 3-of-7 shooting in 35 minutes of play. Not only was his shooting percentage shaky, but the UConn transfer did not appear the least bit either.
- It's rather tacky to ever blame the refs for a defeat, but they certainly played a significant role in this one. Despite numerous shot attempts in the paint, ‘SC shot just 5 free throws compared to Cal's 24 attempts from the foul line. Such a discrepancy didn't particularly help the Trojans' cause.
- The Trojans, who are known for the defensive abilities as demonstrated by their 8th best defensive field goal percentage in the nation, were uncharacteristically lethargic on defense. While Cal is more than a formidable foe, especially on the offensive end, the Trojans allowed them to shoot nearly 50% from the field and become the first in over a month to score more than 60 points against ‘SC.
What to look for next game: Next week, the Trojans will travel a few miles west to Pauley Pavilion to face UCLA, which is coming off an embarrassing road loss at the hands of Stanford. If there is ever a year to sweep UCLA, this is it.
Game is Saturday @ 4:30 PM (FSW)