Prior to Thursday night’s game against Oregon, USC interim coach Bob Cantu hinted at making changes — both in terms of personnel and philosophy. In his second career game as a head coach after serving 12 years as an assistant coach for USC men’s basketball (7-11, 2-3), Cantu adjusted USC’s lineup rotations and spurred the team to quicken its offensive tempo.
Unfortunately for USC, the high-flying Ducks spoiled Cantu’s return to head coaching, edging out the Trojans 76-74 in the final moments and winning their fourth consecutive game to open Pac-12 play. No. 21 Oregon’s well-balanced, versatile attack, which features five starters who average double-digit points, proved too much for USC in the end.
Oregon led comfortably throughout the first half, stretching its lead to as many as 10 points midway through the period before settling with a 35-31 lead at halftime after senior Renaldo Woolridge fouled Oregon forward Carlos Emory on his last-second desperation 3-point heave. Emory would convert two of his three free throws to taint what had been a strong comeback effort for USC.
The Trojans hung on, however, on the strength of junior guard J.T. Terrell’s 15-point first half, which included three 3-pointers.
The second half featured more of the same, with both teams exchanging baskets at a fairly even clip. With 33 seconds remaining, USC drew to within one point after Terrell made two free throws. Following freshman guard Chass Bryan’s intentional foul on Oregon freshman guard Dominic Artis, the Ducks expanded their lead to 76-74 after Artis front-rimmed the first attempt and made the second.
After the ensuing timeout, senior guard Jio Fontan pulled up for a final 3-pointer that rattled around the rim before bouncing out. Both redshirt junior forward Dewayne Dedmon and senior forward Eric Wise had chances at put-back layups but came up empty-handed. Oregon finally corralled the last rebound with one second remaining, sealing the victory.
Despite the hard-luck loss, USC exhibited a scoring punch that has been absent in many games thus far. Much of that can be attributed to the sweet-shooting Terrell, whose frequently dubious shot selections earlier in the season often frustrated former USC coach Kevin O’Neill.
Upon learning of O’Neill’s firing, many figured that Terrell would be the biggest beneficiary of Cantu’s vow to reassess all players on the roster. Making his second consecutive start after an efficient 14-point performance in Saturday’s 76-59 win at Utah, Terrell finished with 22 points on 50 percent shooting, putting forth a convincing case that he deserves a reprieve from the doghouse in which he has spent most of the season.
USC returns to the Galen Center Saturday for a 5 p.m. game against Oregon State.