Stanford’s hopes of winning the Pac-10 title ended with a loss in its last outing, but the Cardinal are still on their way toward their best finish under coach Trent Johnson and likely a high seed in the NCAA tournament.
Southern California’s future is less certain.
Hoping to add a signature victory to their resume as they head toward the postseason, the Trojans go for their fifth win in six games on Saturday when they host the seventh-ranked Cardinal, who have clinched second place in the conference.
Stanford (24-5, 13-4) missed a chance to stay alive in the Pac-10 race on Thursday, when it lost 77-67 in overtime against Pac-10 leader and third-ranked UCLA. The Cardinal blew a 14-point second-half lead before being outscored 14-4 in the extra session.
“They played well for 42 minutes and came up short,” said Johnson, whose team has lost only twice in its last 13 games—both in overtime. “I feel for them.”
Despite Thursday’s loss, Stanford is going to finish with its best record since it went 30-2 overall and 17-1 in Pac-10 play in Mike Montgomery’s last season as coach in 2003-04.
The Cardinal will finish in second place in a conference many have called the best in college basketball. Stanford, though, would still like to close the season strong for NCAA tournament seeding purposes.
Meanwhile, the Trojans (19-10, 10-7) are hoping to continue their late surge, which they hope will be enough to return to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
“I can’t imagine them (NCAA committee) not taking a team with a winning record in the toughest league in the nation,” Southern California coach Tim Floyd said. “But I can’t afford to speculate, so we’ve got to play hard against Stanford.”
USC has won four of its last five games to pull into a third-place tie with No. 23 Washington State. The Trojans will finish either third or fourth, depending on the results of this game and Washington State’s game against Washington—also Saturday.
Freshman guard O.J. Mayo scored only two points in the first half, but finished with 22, including five in overtime, and added nine rebounds and five assists as USC beat California 93-89 on Thursday night.
“It was a gutty win for us,” said Floyd, whose team also got 21 points apiece from Dwight Lewis and Taj Gibson.
Mayo, the second-leading scorer in the conference with 20.7 points per game, is averaging 26.4 in his last five contests. Mayo, however, was held to 14 points while shooting a dismal 5-for-19 from the field in his first game against Stanford on Jan. 5.
The Cardinal shot 27.0 percent in that game for their worst shooting performance since Nov. 20, 1999, but managed to escape with a 52-46 win.
Seven-footer Brook Lopez had eight points while shooting 3-for-10 from the field in that game, but is averaging 22.0 points and shooting 50.5 percent in his last six.
Stanford’s victory evened the all-time series at 116 wins apiece.