That kind of defensive prowess was good enough to make up for the Trojans' offensive shortcomings this season, their inability to beat zone defenses, shoot 3-pointers or convert from the free throw line.
But holding Virginia Commonwealth under that threshold Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio wasn't enough to get USC into the field of 64 proper, falling 59-46 in the "First Four."
The Rams will face sixth-seeded Georgetown on Friday evening in Chicago.
Jio Fontan had a team-high 14 points, as USC (19-15) suffered through perhaps its worst offensive outing of the 2010-11 campaign.
Despite a significant size advantage down low, forwards Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson were never able to capitalize. They combined for 10 shots and 15 points, instead allowing teammates to take contested jump shots as VCU (24-11) alternated effectively between man and zone.
Vucevic finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds, good for his 22nd double-double of the season, but was never able to get on track in tournament play. The junior averaged 11.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in three Pac-10 and NCAA tournament games after going for 17.3 and 10.3 during the regular season.
Stepheson had 4 points and 10 rebounds in his final college game.
Reduced to a perimeter game, USC was 1-for-9 from deep and shot 39.5 percent from the field.
They were held to one field goal over the final 9:20.
Things weren't much better from the charity stripe, where USC made 15 of 25 shots.
Jamie Skeen had 16 points and 9 rebounds for VCU, which was 9 of 24 from behind the arc.