In Kevin O'Neill's world, there are no excuses for a loss, and on Wednesday night, that theory certainly held true as the Trojans fell to a tough Stanford team 54-53 on the road in Palo Alto, a place where USC has not won since Sam Clancy suited up for the Trojans in 2002.
Despite the fact that the Trojans just learned on Sunday that they will be ineligible for postseason play due to the university's self-imposed sanctions, O'Neill still expected the Trojans to leave Maples Pavilion with a victory in hand.
Following the game, a frustrated O'Neill told the media, "For me the news had nothing to do with this game. It's unfathomable to me that we'd play like we did in the first half. For the first time all year I thought we had a total lack of effort in the first half."
That subpar first half and a lack of offense in general is what put the Trojans in a nearly insurmountable hole. Trailing by three points at halftime, Stanford's zone defense made it increasingly difficult on the Trojans' scoring threats' ability to do anything on the offensive end..
Yes, Dwight Lewis had a big game with a team-leading 22 points on an impressive 9-of-15 shooting, but the other USC starters came up empty. Mike Gerrity, Marcus Johnson, and Nikola Vucevic -three of the team's top four scorers - totaled just nine points on the evening.
That lack of offensive firepower made it incredibly difficult for the team to keep up with the Cardinal, which was able to shoot nearly 50% from the field and run most of its sets with great efficiently.
But despite their obvious disadvantage and hole they were placed into, the Trojans were nearly able to mount a serious comeback against Stanford.
Trailing by a score of 53-46 with 1:04 remaining, the Trojans got a jump shot from Dwight Lewis, a steal, another Lewis basket and a Leonard Washington 3-pointer as well as three missed free throws by Stanford to tie the game at 53 with just about 30 seconds left. At that moment, it seemed as if the games was destined for overtime, where the Trojans would certainly have the opportunity to earn their ninth straight victory and move to 3-0 in conference play,
But unfortunately that didn't happen, as an ill-advised reaching foul on the other end of the floor by Washington gave Jarrett Mann the opportunity to convert one free throw with 11 seconds remaining to give Stanford the go ahead lead.
There aren't too many of them but here were the top performers...
Top 3 Trojan performers
- In large part, Dwight Lewis single-handily kept the Trojans in the game by being the team's only consistent scoring threat. Shooting 60% from the field, Lewis scored a game-high 22 points and was even better in the closing minutes when ‘SC needed him the most. For a player, who has often been maligned for his inconsistency as a scorer this season, his performance on Wednesday was a welcomed change.
- After experiencing foul trouble in the Diamond Head Classic and against the Arizona schools, Alex Stepheson was finally able to play significant minutes for the Trojans. Resting for just four minutes, the fourth year junior scored 13 points while serving as a major factor on the defensive end with eight rebounds and 2 blocked shots.
- Despite a rather pedestrian performance with just seven points and a few questionable decisions, Leonard Washington was key in certain moments of the game. With the Trojans trailing by three points with under a minute left to play, Washington nailed a three pointer to tied the game at 53 and give ‘SC a chance to earn the victory.
‘Goat of the Game (Note: GOTG denotes the Trojan that fans are most likely to blame for the loss): Mike Gerrity struggled mightily against Johnny Dawkins's stifling zone defense, as he shot 1-of-6 from the field for 3 points and recorded just three assists. His inability to be his usual playmaking self is one of the reasons that the Trojans earned their first loss in Pac-10 play.
Play of the Game: Leonard Washington's three pointer with 32 seconds remaining in regulation tied the game at 53 and gave the Trojans the opportunity to win their ninth straight game.
What to look for next game: This Saturday, ‘SC will travel across the bay to Berkeley, to take on the California Bears, who are coming off a disappointing 76-75 overtime loss to UCLA on Wednesday night. The Bears, who were regarded as one of the favorites to win the Pac-10, will be looking to rebound from that shaky performance against the Trojans, who are trying to recover from Sunday's announcement regarding the university's self-imposed sanctions.
Game is Saturday @ 7:30 PM (FSW)