Trojans set sights on Pac-12 tournament

For a team on the verge of its first NCAA tournament appearance in five seasons, the Trojans don’t seem carried away at all.

In a resurgent season for the men’s basketball team, the Trojans won 20 games for the first time since 2009 and 16 games at home for the first time since 1961. It was a season that saw the Men of Troy crack the AP Top 25 rankings — not once, but twice — for the first time since DeMar DeRozan and Taj Gibson donned cardinal and gold. The Trojans also notched several signature wins over Wichita State, Arizona and two victories over archrival UCLA.

Yet, March Madness is the last thing on their minds.

“I’m not going to speculate on the NCAA tournament,” head coach Andy Enfield said after Saturday’s 76-66 loss to Oregon. “That’s out of our hands. We’ve had a great year.”

Prior to Saturday’s game, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi penciled in USC as an eighth seed in the NCAA tournament in the South region.

As many as seven teams from the Pac-12 could make the NCAA tournament, with the conference boasting four teams in the AP Top 25 and six teams with an RPI in the top 40.

“We have 11 [wins against top 100 teams], which is significant,” Enfield said. “Could we have 22-23 wins? Of course, but we could also have 14-15 wins.”

A win on Saturday would have given the Trojans their first winning conference record since the 2010-2011 season, but USC fell to a deeper and more talented Oregon team at home.

The Men of Troy overcame a 15-point deficit to take a brief lead in the second half, but succumbed to offensive boards, poor free throw shooting and lack of consistency on offense.

“To have 20 wins and be 16-2 at home, our players have accomplished a lot,” Enfield said. “They beat a very good [Oregon State] team on Wednesday. They played exceptional basketball. [Against Oregon], we took the lead and came back against a top-10 team in the country. I can’t be upset at all. I think our team has a lot of improvement that’s still in there.”

The most glaring improvement would be their play on the road, where the Trojans were just 3-7 during the season and dropped their last six away games.

“We’re not very good on the road,” Enfield said. “The next step for our team for our players coming back is how to win on the road and play better basketball on the road on both ends of the floor.”

The test begins in the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. As the seventh seed, the Trojans will take on 10th-seeded UCLA Wednesday night in the first round. They should be confident, having beaten the Bruins by double-digits this season twice — at home and on the road.

Yet, after the game Saturday, players dodged question after question about their NCAA tournament chances, pledging to stay focused on the immediate task ahead.

“[A tournament berth] would be huge, but we’re not thinking about it,” junior forward Nikola Jovanovic said. “We just want to focus game-to-game, which is Wednesday in Vegas.”

Redshirt junior forward Katin Reinhardt echoed that sentiment.

“We’re just ready for Wednesday, that’s all we’re worried about,” Reinhardt said.