Basketball Channels Football of Yesteryear

The USC men's basketball team is channeling the football team of yesteryear, struggling late in games and seemingly without an identity.

Kicker Joe Houston became the scapegoat for USC in 2010.

By missing a handful of critical field goals that season, Houston embodied the fourth-quarter plague that infected those Trojans.

Tight losses to Washington, Stanford and Notre Dame weren't solely the ineptitude of USC's special teams, though. All three phases lacked that mentality late in games, which led to USC's uncharacteristic 8-5 record.

Swap the cleats for sneakers and it's the same result for the men of Troy a year later. As the USC men's basketball team lost another nailbiter, 63-59, to Georgia Saturday, it was clear this was another Trojan team out of clutch.

"When it comes down to paper, we may not look like the most talented team, [but] we can compete pound for pound with anyone in the country," Trojan guard Moore said, who led the Trojans with 18 points against the Bulldogs. "So I think it only helps, these close games."

Amassing its third straight loss, four of the Trojans' seven total losses this season have come within four points, three within a single basket.

When asked if the Trojans' can improve their shooting (.416 field goal percentage), head coach Kevin O'Neill seemed doubtful.

"I think we probably are what we are," he said. "Hopefully as guys get more experience and play more, they'll shoot the ball better.

"But we haven't proven that. Obviously. We haven't proved that we're a great shooting team."

In 2010, USC wide receiver Robert Woods was a true freshman and quarterback Matt Barkley a true sophomore. Most of the Kiffin believers were babies then.

Look at the Trojan basketball roster. Only three seniors, one out for the season and two who have logged insignificant minutes. Three of USC's top-five scorers are two freshmen and a sophomore.

Experience is key for turning close losses into eventual victories. When its tight, the awful aftertaste lingers a little longer, the pain a little sharper.

The 2011 Trojans football team know this very well, their 10-2 record a bi-product of experience and tweaking minor details. But most significant, that team learned how to finish strong because it didn't the first time around.

A third of their season over, it's clear the men's basketball team lacks the same depth and experience of football from 2010, but this team isn't one short on team chemistry, effort or ability.

This team doesn't have 13 games in their entire season. They aren't out for the individual. And they still have plenty of time to beat the clock on the way to the Big Dance.

They just need to find a better way to do it. Because what they're doing now isn't enough.

"Big games like this, going down to the wire, I think it can only help us…towards the end, when we know we can win games like this it'll help us, especially against good teams like [Georgia]," Moore said.

And the good teams will keep coming, as USC gets a visit from TCU and nationally-ranked Kansas this week.

Unfortunately for these Trojans who need to speed up their learning-curve now, the knowledge of winning and actually doing so are two entirely different things.


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