The USC Trojans came storming back from a double-digit deficit in the second half to no avail as the Utah Utes escaped with a 69-66 victory in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. The final moments perfectly depicted the agonizing season full of controversy, moments of glory and plenty of head-scratching results.
J.T. Terrell drained a deep three-pointer cutting the lead to three with 41 seconds to play. On the next possession, the Trojans played sound defense, forcing a contested shot from the hottest player on the court in Jarred DuBois. Jason Wasburn grabbed the rebound but missed the put-back attempt giving USC one last shot to score.
Byron Wesley was then stripped of the basketball and JT Terrell could not fire up a shot before the buzzer, ending the game and the season for USC.
“I’m proud of our guys efforts overall, but we came up just came up a bit short tonight,” Bob Cantu said.
Omar Oraby led the Trojans with 18 points and 10 rebounds in 35 arduous minutes for the Trojans. The losses of Dewayne Dedmon and James Blasczyk were a big concern before the game, but Aaron Fuller and Oraby played extremely well in their absence. Fuller was one of two players to come off the short bench for USC, registering six points in 14 minutes of action.
The Utes took a nine-point lead midway through the first half by feeding the ball down low in the post. Jason Washburn registered eight first-half points, and attracted double teams all night long. Jarred DuBois was the greatest benefactor of this pressure, hitting 7-12 shots from the field capitalizing on numerous open shots from the perimeter.
DuBois led the Utes with 22 points, making critical baskets to counter the Trojans gutsy performance in the second half. “We had a difficult time with DuBois, he is such a crafty player and was hitting open shots all night long,” Cantu said.
The Trojans struggled to find any rhythm in the first half, shooting 34-percent from the field. A big reason for that was the struggles Jio Fontan, Byron Wesley and JT Terrell had in the first-round matchup.
The three players combined to shoot 12-35 in the game, numbers that stack very poorly against their strong performances in the teams first meeting.
“They [Utah] keyed in on our players, they had a great game plan we didn’t get as many looks as I would like,” Cantu said.
The Trojans went on an impressive 12-0 run cutting the Utah lead to one with 3:46 to play. The comeback was fueled by Terrell’s second-half points including a monstrous putback slam that brought the entire MGM Center crowd to their feet.
In the end however, the Trojans flurry was for not as the Utes continued to make open shots, knocking in nearly 50-percent (7-16) of their shots from behind the arc. Jarred DuBois nailed the biggest shot of the game, hitting a three-point shot after curling off a strong double screen.
The final game of the season was full of agony, excitement and disappointment. The Fighting Cantu’s played another game within eight points, capping an epic ride in what could be the interim head coaches final game.
“I am very fortunate to be at USC for 12 years. We have had great coaches, great teams, and great players,” Cantu said. “Thankful to our guys who worked hard at practice and games.”
The USC Trojans improved their win total (plus-8) this season, fighting a coaching change, countless injuries and two suspensions in the seasons final week.
“At end of the day, we are a team. If one messes up we all mess up, we didn’t do what we need to win,” Byron Wesley said.