Basketball team has room for progress
In the minutes prior to tipoff between the USC menâs basketball team and UCLA on Sunday afternoon, the Galen Center video board flashed a montage of highlights from the Trojansâ upset win over the Bruins on Jan. 30. It showed flashy dunks and some last-minute free throws, preserving the victory in the minds of fans.
USC players and fans smiled, reminiscing. Meanwhile, UCLA players and fans grimaced, re-living the game.
âThat definitely pissed them off,â senior forward Renaldo Woolridge said, when asked about the Bruinsâ reaction to the video clips. âIt wouldâve pissed me off.â
Pissed-off UCLA opened the game by racing out to 7-0 lead in less than three minutes. Its lead grew would only grow from there to 17-4 and then to 21-8. Little changed when the final buzzer rang. UCLA won and did so handily by a final score of 75-59.
For USC, which had been riding a modest four-game winning streak as recently as nine days ago, Sundayâs loss, combined with a similarly disappointing defeat at Cal on Feb. 17 in which it relinquished a 15-point second half lead, functioned as a slap back to reality. This, by all accounts, isnât playing to rise â contrary to the teamâs frequently mentioned slogan.
âWe didnât come ready,â said junior center Omar Oraby, who finished with 11 points. âIt comes down to who plays harder, and they played harder.â
The Trojans were simply out of it from the get-go versus the Bruins.
âIt was too much of a hole to get out of,â added USC interim coach Bob Cantu, speaking on UCLAâs first-half onslaught.
No doubt, double-digit deficits remain difficult to overcome.
âObviously itâs a loss, but with the rivalry itâs bigger than a loss,â junior guard J.T. Terrell said.
And so Sunday served as the Trojansâ second-straight loss. Not to mention theyâre now 12-15 overall and 7-7 in the Pac-12. The NCAA tournament? That remains every bit of an afterthought barring an unexpected run in the conference tournament to secure an automatic bid. The NIT? That stands increasingly less likely as the Trojans inch further away from the .500 benchmark.
This season â whatever was left of it, anyway â appears to be slipping from their grasp. It isnât unexpected: Moving on from Kevin OâNeill and a nightmarish final 12 months of his tenure isnât exactly a quick, overnight fix. Evidently, undoing the damage is going to take a bit of time, perhaps much more than it looked like a couple weeks ago.
No matter how well Cantu, who is now 5-5 since taking over for OâNeill in January, has done at changing the culture around the program and inspiring confidence among players midseason, everything about his scheme looks off. The Trojans still take terrible shots and have little flow offensively; by and large, they live and die by 3-pointers and 17-foot jumpers, which can lead to some nice wins but hardly serves as a recipe for any long-term offensive success.
As for defense, Sundayâs effort couldnât have been much worse. To open the game, the Bruins made 8 of their first ten shots, a rate that would eventually culminate in a 47.2 percent clip for the game.
The problem currently appears to be that USC canât find any sort of middle ground for its team. With OâNeill at the helm, they looked like an over-disciplined bunch, robots timid and hesitant to assert themselves on the court, especially on the offensive end. Now, by contrast, they seemingly lack any discipline, are out of position on defense and hoist Â ill-advised shots on offense.
Cantu mentioned during his post-game media session that this is a âlowâ point. Thereâs nothing new about that: In basketball, as he mentioned, there are plenty of highs and lows. But this groupâs problems run deeper than simply a low point. Really, UCLA and Cal have exposed âSC after a two-week span in which good shooting masked a number of glaring problems: regression on defense and a lack of anything that resembles offensive structure.
This program needs an overhaul. That much is apparent in the wake of a 16-point home loss to a crosstown rival. Does that overhaul still leave Cantu in the big chair on the Galen Center sidelines? Perhaps, sure. But with every loss, it becomes an increasingly unlikely possibility.
Whoever takes over on a full-time basis, whether thatâs Cantu or the wide range of candidates who have been publicly linked to the opening in recent weeks, has quite a bit of work cut out for them. What transpired Sunday sure indicates this team is one thatâs far, far away from one dancing in March. Despite OâNeillâs departure, USC is still chasing not only UCLA, but most everyone out west.
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