The Trojans (11-21) finished up a relatively disappointing season by playing 35 strong minutes of basketball with yet another blemish on their resume in the closing moments, faltering 59-56 against the Colorado Buffaloes (21-10).
In fact, the game's final play may have best described the whole outcome of the season. Following a strong defensive possession down by three points, Buffaloes guard Askia Booker captivated the audience by dashing past the defense and firing the ball off Julian Jacobs' legs forcing the ball out of bounds to Colorado.
Colorado inbounded the basketball, surely enough with the intentions of icing the game at the basket, and freshman guard Julian Jacobs (who coach Andy Enfield said after the game would be one of the key players to watch for next season) came soaring in for the block from behind to keep USC's hopes alive.
"Those kids played hard," said Colorado coach Tad Boyle. "They played with a lot of heart and a lot of energy...I think USC had something to do with the game tonight, and it was physical game."
Pe'Shon Howard recovered the basketball from one of those mad scrambles coach Boyle had been talking about, and gave Byron Wesley the basketball with one prerogative. USC's leading three-point shooter got a look, which he admits wasn't his best shot of the night, but couldn't sink the last-second shot to send the game into overtime.
After jumping out to a five-point lead with 10:43 to play in the basketball game, veteran leadership took over for Colorado and USC struggled to muster much offense when it mattered most. Byron Wesley (23 points) scored six of the final eight points on offense, but couldn't conjure up the last-second heroics to send the game into overtime.
"They played that last possession about as well as you could," said Enfield, "(they) forced the turnover or blocked shot and got a clean look to tie the game. So that was just one play out of the game, but there many others.
It may have just seemed like another loss, but the entire course of the offseason may be scripted from that final moment. USC worked hard on the defensive end of the court forcing a poor shot from Colorado's Xavier Talton as the shot clock expired but couldn't finish out the play or even get the final bounce to fall their way.
Filled with infamous highs and sudden lows, Wednesday's game sits amongst an up-and-down which now departs four seniors as a slew of young prospects will now enter the fold. In tonight's final chapter, the heart never skipped a beat.
After winning the opening tip, Omar Oraby was fed the ball in the post and went right to work on Josh Scott for a strong bucket off the glass making folks at the MGM Grand Garden Arena gaze in awe at an inspired USC squad on their hands.
Sure Colorado made their adjustments, and USC was bound to start missing some shots from the perimeter once the paint became clogged and pressure intensified, but it sure looked like these guys played up to the March Madness moment.
With nothing to lose, every player on the team, from freshmen to senior alike, put together the best defensive effort this season. As the clock finally expired, Colorado fans cheered more out of pure fear and anxiety from losing than anything else.
And after losing a tough game like that, USC understands that they must put the pedal to the metal when the opportunity strikes to not only compete with better opponents, but actually pull off major victories along the way.
"They gave great effort," Enfield said about his team's overall performance against an equally desperate and physical Colorado squad. "But we have to make open shots, and sometimes we go into stretches where we just missed wide open threes or we missed two transition layups. So that's the frustrating part."
USC pounded the rock early with an inspired Omar Oraby in the paint. The Trojans played inspired help defense leading to 13 Colorado turnovers while only coughing up 10 themselves. They got to the line 10 times and made 70 percent of their free throws. They even took heavy punches from Colorado in a game no one really expected them to win.
But when it really mattered most, and the ball landed in the players' hands with possessions to seal the game on the offensive end, the Trojans once again left the court wondering what if; and more importantly what will happen next?
THREE FINAL KEYS
-USC stayed in the game with defense (seven lead changes and 10 ties), recording seven blocks and six steals, but were strongly out-rebounded on the glass (38-27) leading to 10 second-chance points and 10 fast break points.
-Byron Wesley is the only Pac-12 player this season to lead his team in both scoring and rebounding (6th in Pac-12 scoring, 15th in Pac-12 rebounding) and put on a strong showing against Colorado with 23 points and two rebounds.
-USC shot 5-22 from behind the arc, and were forced to fire up 14 shots from behind the arc in the second half after Colorado began clogging the paint against Omar Oraby (10 points, 4-6 shooting) and D.J. Haley down low.