LAS VEGAS —
After a season spent clawing its way back from the wrong side of the bubble, just one more win seemed as if it would be proof enough to assure any lingering doubters of USC’s rightful place in the NCAA tournament field. One measly victory in the conference quarterfinals, and USC could rest easy on Selection Sunday.
But there was no reassurance to be found for USC in Las Vegas, nor will there be restful nights ahead. If the committee still needed any convincing, USC didn’t make much of a case in a 77-72 loss to Arizona State.
Desmond Cambridge Jr. scored 27 points, including six three-pointers, to lead the Sun Devils.
Now USC will have to sit and wait, crossing its fingers that enough bubbles burst between now and Sunday.
The Trojans didn’t look at all like a team intending to make a statement Thursday, as they were outplayed and outhustled from start to finish by Arizona State, a team desperate to win its way into the field.
There was no such desperation from USC, at least not until near the end when the Trojans started firing at will from deep. They made three-pointers on three straight possessions, cutting Arizona State’s lead to four points.
But the hole they’d dug was too deep. For the first time since 2014, the first season of the Andy Enfield era, USC was ousted in its opening matchup of the Pac-12 tournament.
This time, it had the chops to make a deeper run. But its offense ran out of gas and didn’t find its reserves until it was too late.
Freshman Tre White would lead the way, scoring 16 points. Boogie Ellis and Kobe Johnson each scored 15, and Drew Peterson struggled from the field, making only two of 12 shots.
Five nights earlier, these two teams went down to the wire, despite Arizona State shooting a paltry 29% from the field, its second-worst shooting performance of the season. USC let them hang around anyway, even giving the Sun Devils a shot to send the game to overtime. It missed, and the Trojans breathed a sigh of relief, knowing their tournament hopes were probably safe.
There was no such relief to be found Thursday. Arizona State flew out to an 8-0 lead in the first minute.
Nothing came any easier for USC from there, as the Trojans looked like a team that had run out of gas.They shot a miserable 26% in the first half, with multiple scoreless stretches of five minutes or more. At one point, they turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions, prompting Enfield to throw up his hands on the sideline.
It wouldn’t be much longer before USC would do the same, left to hope that its resume was enough to earn an invite.