USC still has two months of games left to play this season, so it’s hardly the case that the Trojans’ season is effectively over. This team still has chances to improve its profile and create an NCAA Tournament-worthy resume. There is still enough time and enough opportunity.
However: If USC does fall short of the Big Dance this season, and the margins are relatively small between inclusion and exclusion, we’re all going to remember the moment when the Trojans lost their big chance.
USC played magnificent defense on Thursday night against UCLA. The Trojans, down 50-34 with 15:52 left in the game, didn’t allow a point in a span of eight and a half minutes. They didn’t allow a field goal in nearly 10 minutes. They allowed just three points to UCLA in a span of 12 minutes and 15 seconds.
USC’s offense was never particularly good in this game, though Reese Dixon-Waters hit 7 of 7 field goal attempts and was, by himself, a bright light for the Trojans. As a team, however, USC hit just 3 of 16 3-pointers and earned only six free throw attempts. The Trojans were once again below average on offense. Their comeback was entirely based on defense, affirming the reality that USC basketball under Andy Enfield requires elite effort and elite defense. If the Trojans don’t have that, they’re sunk.
The painful irony is that after 39 and a half minutes of great defense, the Trojans had one really bad defensive possession when they could least afford it. One bad possession turned a two-point lead into a one-point deficit and, ultimately, a crushing loss:
You don’t get to see the full possession, but you can certainly see that three USC defenders went to Jaime Jaquez, even though he was only 10 to 12 feet from the basket in a two-point game (USC up 58-56). Jaquez or any other Bruin who was driving to the basket should not be getting double-teamed, let alone triple-teamed. No one should be helping off 3-point shooters in that situation. Yet, two USC defenders got dragged into the paint. The Trojans had no floor balance. When UCLA got the offensive rebound, no one was in position to guard shooters on the perimeter.
One bad possession was a killer, much as one USC safety allowed to Tulane was enough for the USC offense to cede leverage late in the Cotton Bowl even though that offense played so brilliantly for 98 percent of the game.
What a rough week in USC athletics. Just one lapse in the wrong moment can flip a result 180 degrees.