For 22 minutes, the Galen Center went dark in the first half. For 16 minutes in the second half, USC looked like they were shooting in the dark.
Following a 22-minute darkness delay after a power surge knocked out the arena's lights, the Trojans erased a 15-point lead with a strong four-minute finish to the first half and a 10-2 run to open the second half. But after USC took a 47-46 lead on a Nikola Jovanovic layup with 16:08 remaining, it couldn't hit a shot, ultimately falling to No. 9 Oregon, 76-66, in their final regular season game.
The Trojans (20-11, 9-9) started the second half 5-for-7, but were just 5-for-21 in the final 16 minutes. Four of those baskets were layups. The Trojans made just one jumpshot. They missed all eight of their three-point attempts in the second half. They also missed eight shots at the rim that were classified as "layups" on the official play-by-play. And to top it off, USC missed 9-of-18 free throws in the second half after being 9-for-10 in the first half.
"To win games, you've got to knock shots down," said USC guard Katin Reinhardt, who finished tied for the team-high with 12 points. "It was a one possession game down the stretch. Kudos to them, they kept making shots, tough shots. In order to win those games, you have to knock those shots down. It comes down to that."
Tyler Dorsey did just that to help Oregon (25-6, 14-4) win the Pac-12 title outright. The freshman Los Angeles native was 8-for-11 from the field, scoring a game-high 19 points. He drained a 3-pointer with 3:45 remaining that pushed the Ducks ahead by seven points and Dwayne Benjamin provided the final nail in the coffin with a contested 3-pointer from the top of the key as the shot clock was winding down with 1:35 remaining. Benjamin finished with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting while Elgin Cook recorded a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
For the game, Oregon shot 47.5 percent while USC only made 41.5 percent of its shots. The Ducks also won the rebounding battle 38-28, including grabbing nine second half offensive rebounds. USC led the rebounding margin, 13-12, at halftime, but struggled in the second half.
Here's three takeaways from USC's loss to No. 9 Oregon at the Galen Center Saturday afternoon:
Defense Wins, Inconsistency Doesn't
After being down 15, the Trojans got back in the game by playing stellar defense. Oregon didn't get open looks and easy lanes to drive the ball when USC was storming back. The Trojans were forcing turnovers, including four on Oregon's first five second half possessions.
USC held Oregon to 36.7 percent shooting in the second half. The Ducks had 11 field goals, but four of those came on offensive putbacks. When the Trojans rebounded in the second half, they were able to lock down Oregon's offensive attack.
But the problem has been "for the most part" of a game isn't enough. In the first half, the Ducks shot 58.6 percent and were able to get repeated good looks.
USC moves its feet, talks on defense, helps out on the weakside and does all the right things defensively...for parts of the game, but hasn't been able to put together a consistently strong defense. If the Trojans want to make any postseason noise, either next week in Las Vegas or after, the defense has to be more dependable.
The Trojans have consistently struggled recently with shooting late in halves. They have gone on several lulls over the last month in the final 10 minutes of a half. Large USC leads have disappeared at times while close games have suddenly got away from the Trojans. For a team that relies on the three-point shot, tired legs are a death sentence and that has seemed to be the case in the final stretch of the regular season.
"We just didn't make shots down the stretch," Enfield said. "We need to figure out as a group, as coaches and a team, what do we have to do in the last five minutes to be a little more efficient."
Several of the players have become routine ice bath participants, but there just doesn't seem to be the same burst off the ground on either end of the floor. Julian Jacobs had been good each game for one difficult dunk that he made look way too easy throughout the first half of the year, but those seem to be occurring every other game now.
Katin Reinhardt was 1-of-5 on 3-pointers Saturday and he has made just seven long distance shots in the last six games. Elijah Stewart was shooting 52.4 percent on 3-pointers the first 10 Pac-12 games, but during USC's 2-6 slump to end the regular season, Stewart's percentage slumped to 37.9. Jordan McLaughlin has been wildly inconsistent. He has four 20+ point performances in the last 14 games, but also has been held to single digits six times during that period.
"Jordan McLaughlin has a very high percentage from the field and the three-point line the entire season. He might have been worn down a little bit today. He was 4-for-12, 0-for-4," Enfield said. "Julian was 2-for-8 from the field and those guys played the most minutes. I'm not sure if fatigue had any effect or not, but I do know they play as hard as they can every game and they just had trouble making shots today."
USC only has a four-guard rotation, so it's not like there are any reinforcements since three of the four are going to be on the court at every point. When a guy gets in foul trouble like Stewart did Saturday, it just forces more minutes on the other guys. Enfield tried to use Malik Marquetti midway through the second half, but he got blown by on his first defensive possession and struggled hanging on to the ball, nearly losing it twice without any pressure during his two-minute stint. The Trojans have a pair of talented incoming freshman guards, but those reinforcements won't do this year's team any good.
Strahinja's Senior Moment
Not many teams still start their seniors in the final game as used to be the tradition across the nation, but Andy Enfield did so on Saturday for USC's one senior, Strahinja "Luis" Gavrilovic. It was Gavrilovic's first start since Feb. 20, 2014. The move paid off for the Trojans as Gavrilovic scored the first four points of the game and helped USC jump out to a 7-2 lead in the first three minutes of the game before he was replaced.
"I thought it was great. He played awesome," Enfield said. "He's one of the hardest working players I've ever coached. He brings everything he has to practice. He competed tonight. He played great. We're just so happy for him."
After averaging 4.9 points and 2.7 rebounds in 13.7 minutes last season, Gavrilovic's role saw a drastic decline this year as freshmen Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu took over primary roles in the rotation of forwards. After sitting out the first 11 conference games, he has made a brief apperance in each of the last seven games, but has played just 42 minutes in 17 total games. Gavrilovic was never one to complain though and is appreciated by all of his teammates, particularly fellow Serbian Nikola Jovanovic.
USC finishes the regular season 20-11 overall and 9-9 in conference play. The Trojans head to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 tournament where they will take on rival UCLA for the third time this season in their opening round game at 6 p.m. on Wednesday. USC has blown out the Bruins twice this season and would love to repay UCLA for last year's 96-70 beatdown in the Pac-12 tournamentthat ended the Trojans season.
- USC fell to 1-8 this season when trailing at halftime.
- The Trojans fell to 5-7 when being outrebounded.
- USC fell to 2-9 when being outshot by the opposition.
- Only three Trojans scored in double figures. USC’s record in games with three players scoring 10+ points fell to 3-7.
- USC was 4-for-19 from three point range (21.1 percent). It was just the eighth time this season USC did not hit six or more threes.
- The Trojans finish the regular season 16-2 at home.