Cover your children's eyes. Look away. It's a gruesome sight. An entire basketball team crushed in a trainwreck heading straight down the coast from the Bay area. Perhaps the single worst disaster to hit Southern California in this very new year... Let's hope so. Let's hope there is a way for the USC Trojans to pick up the pieces from this crash and put their team back together again.
The Golden Bears traveled South Thursday morning with a secret weapon stowed deep away in their hip pockets - something they'd not exposed to any of their other opponents - 70% shooting from three point range. And in response, Henry Bibby revealed a secret of his own - fear. Coach Bibby, for the third time this year, gave away the game to his hungry opponent. He froze up, not just in crunch time, but throughout the match by not giving fouls when he had them, by not adjusting his defense from zone to man, when his opponent was hot from the outside and by not rotating his bench in more to spell the starters. Bibby got out coached and the Trojans got beat by a good, but inferior Cal basketball team.
Perhaps merely blaming the coach is a bit too harsh, but if this were a game show and the votes had to be cast, right now Henry Bibby would be the weakest link. That doesn't mean he won't learn from this and turn this around. But on a night where USC had a tremendous opportunity to leap ahead in the Pac Ten and on a night where the Coach had the chance to fill his men with enough confidence to carry them through the remainder of the regular season, everything and everybody came up in a manner that is as ugly as basketball gets - short.
It is difficult to run the zone against a team that is shooting lights out from NBA range, but the Trojans did exactly that. Only on a few occasions did Coach Bibby switch them from this ineffective defense to a man/zone combination and only a few times did he put a full press on the Cal Bears. The one time he should have put the press on was with :47 seconds left in overtime where the Bears' point guard drove the length of the court, unabated, to the basket for an easy two. That play took just :06 seconds off the clock and brought Cal within two of tying the game once again. The USC players and their head man, looked flustered, lost in the woods. There was :41 seconds left in the game and they clearly did not want to be there. Why would they? Earlier in the season, against Pepperdine, they got burnt by a Hail Mary three pointer burped up with just seconds remaining. Then earlier tonight, in regulation, their opponent came from six down with under a minute to tie and force the game to this perilous height. It may not amount to a true phobia, but looking deep into the eyes of the Trojans, it certainly was a palpable fear. They were about to lose again. They were the better team, but right at that moment, their bodies, minds and souls were frozen with a fright that most of them hadn't experienced since their childhood nightmares. :40 more seconds, surely someone could wake them up and stop, stop this horrifying dream from continuing?
No one came. No one answered the cries for help. The USC Trojans were left alone in the damp and darkened to witness the nightmare all over again. In slow motion, their best man got driven in to the corner, nearly beaten to death, the ball ripped from his hands. The men in black would only watch, no saving whistle to interfere with a destiny written by the boogie man. And then it came - possession to Cal. Now just :26 seconds remained. It didn't have to end this way, but it was going to and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Henry Bibby was not going to call the foul and force the Bears to yet another overtime in their homecourt. No, he was going to wait and see if Cal could do one more time, what they had done all night long - bomb. And so they did, with the ease of a professional killer snuffing out a life in the middle of the night, the Cal Bears murdered the USC Trojans in front of nearly nine thousand witnesses.
They stole a game that belonged to USC by one single point. So the question becomes, is the nightmare over, or has it just begun? Coach Bibby and his senior leaders have got to find a way to put this loss in to perspective. They've got to turn their phobia in to their competitive edge, if they hope to both make the NCAA tournament and then make any type of run. They've got to do it quick, because two days from now the Stanford Cardinals are coming into our little room with blood on their hands and a taste in their mouths that will need quenching. For the USC Trojans last night's loss has got to become a rallying cry for if not, this nightmare may never end.