2011: Best of the Best USC Sports Moments


Well folks, we have reached the very last day of the year 2011, and what a year in sports it has been! We saw the NFL and NBA have league lockouts, the Green Bay Packers won their first Super Bowl in over a decade, and Dwayne Wade, Lebron James and Chris Bosh teamed up for the greatest choke job in the history of the NBA. In the collegiate world, we saw more scandals than I even want to remember: Ohio State, Miami, and the most appalling of all, Penn State and Jerry Sandusky. It was an ugly year for collegiate sports; with so many teams getting exposed for NCAA violations it was almost remnant of the Steroid Era in major league baseball.

But not all hope was lost this season.

One school on the west coast remained a shining beacon of success, dominating across a variety of sports, for the entire year. So as the sun sets on 2011 and prepares to rise on 2012—our last year as a civilization after all—let’s take a look back on the greatest USC sports moments of 2011.

We are gonna need something positive to think about when the world is ending next December, right?

Nikola Vucevic gets drafted in the first round of the NBA draft: USC basketball hasn’t had much to brag about since the days of O.J. Mayo, and even those bragging rights have been tainted by his involvement in NCAA violations (which eventually led USC to sanction itself during the 2009-2010 season). Just a year after the said sanctions, Nikola Vucevic had an incredible season, including a standout performance in USC’s upset victory over the Texas Longhorns. He commanded national attention, and was selected 16th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA draft earlier this year. Here’s to hoping he carries on the Trojan legacy and has a great rookie season.

USC men’s basketball team beats the Texas Longhorns: Fresh off the previously mentioned sanctions, USC basketball came out swinging last season. When the big dogs from No. 19 Texas showed up at the Galen Center, USC went to work putting on a great show for their fans. They suffocated the Longhorns’ play the entire duration of the game, and commanded the momentum the entire time. When the game ended and the score read 73-56 in favor of the Trojans, we knew that this team would have a good run.

USC men’s basketball makes it to the NCAA Tournament: the USC Trojans made all of Trojan Nation proud when they actually had a team to root for during March Madness. Not only that, but by this time, Center Nikola Vucevic, Forward Alex Stephenson, and Guard Jio Fontan had become fan favorites. Unfortunately, Virginia Commonwealth knocked out the Trojans in the first round, but they went all the way to the Final Four (shocking the world and making Shaka Smart a household name), so Trojan fans shouldn’t feel too bad. What was to be taken away from this post-season appearance though was that USC basketball was not going to accept living in the football team’s shadow forever, and some exciting things could be expected going forward.

Men’s tennis three-peats: The tennis team beat top-seeded Virginia to win its third NCAA title. Daniel Nguyen—who was the star of the 2010 championship—did it again this year when he clinched the game winning point. This win marked the 19th national title and USC’s 115th overall. Six days later, Steve Johnson competed to win the NCAA single’s title. Johnson became the first Trojan EVER to win both the singles and team title in the same year since the dual-match format was introduced to determine the national championship. So basically, Steve Johnson is a BOSS.

Women’s volleyball owns the Pac-12 and makes a second consecutive appearance in the Final Four: The Lady Trojans came out this season and deftly handled their opponents like it ain’t no thang, posting their best season since they went undefeated in 2003. The squad finished 29-5 this year, ranking No. 3 overall in the final AVCA poll. Along the way, they completely beasted the Pac-12 and won the conference title. It wasn’t always a cake walk, though: come NCAA tournament time, the Lady Trojans faced some challenges as a No. 7 seed. But, because they are Trojans and because all they do is win, they crushed Hawaii in Honolulu in the face of 10,000 screaming Hawaii fans to secure their spot in the Final Four.  The team would eventually lose to Illinois (who would lose the final round to UCLA), this squad was still one riddled with talent, boasting four All-Americans — sophomore Natalie Hagglund, seniors Kendall Bateman and Lauren Williams and Alex Jupiter. Jupiter also finished as Pac-12 and AVCA National Player of the Year. But did you honestly expect anything less from her?

Men’s water polo wins an unprecedented fourth consecutive national title: When USC faced UCLA in the title game, not only did they do what Trojans do best—which is slay Bruns—but they also re-wrote the history books, becoming the first team ever to win four titles in a row. That means that the seniors on this team will end their USC career with four rings. FOUR. Only one word can accurately describe these guys: WINNERS. Two-time MPSF Player of the Year Joel Dennerley was named NCAA tournament MVP after racking up 15 saves in his final game. Fellow senior Peter Kurzeka joined him on the All-Tournament first team. With the win, USC won its 116th national title overall.

USC football team beats Notre Dame at Notre Dame: After sloppily losing to the Fighting Irish last season, USC’s most bitter non-conference rival thought they had it in the bag this season. They scheduled some irrelevant team two weeks before the Trojans came to town so they could be 4-0 going into this game, and make the nation think they were contenders. They scheduled a bye week the week before, so they could be rested and ready to go. They even somehow convinced Las Vegas that they were nine points better than the Trojans. And when USC finally did come to town, the Trojans were having NONE of it.  The Irish prayed to Touchdown Jesus as hard as could, but it wasn’t enough: USC would own this game, and take the jeweled shillelagh back to Los Angeles where it belongs. The Trojans let the Irish hang around for a minute, but then capitalized on many of the Irish’s mistakes. Most notably, USC safety Jawanza Starling scooped up a Tommy Rees fumble and ran it all the way back for a touchdown. And he did it LIKE A BOSS. This win over Notre Dame not only extended USC’s recent dominance over the Fighting Irish (Notre Dame beat USC only once from 2000-2010), it also signaled the turning point of the program, where the football team would go on an epic return to greatness.

USC competes in a Triple OT Thriller with Stanford: I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: this game was the BEST game in the Coliseum that I have ever attended as a USC student. Sure, the Trojans lost the game, but the atmosphere was so electric and game was so well-executed and well-coached that I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Trojan fans stood on their feet the entire time as Matt Barkley and his team showed the nation that Andrew Luck was NOT the best quarterback in the conference (and this was later backed up when Barkley posted better stats this season than Luck did). We also saw the emergence of running back Curtis McNeal, who became the star of USC’s struggling running game.

The Wall of Troy stood firm against the assault of the Cardinal, and was able to come down on Andrew Luck more than once. At one point, DE Nick Perry hit Luck so hard, he got up like he didn’t want to play anymore. Nickell Robey’s pick-six gave USC a lead late in the game, and Trojan Nation absolutely lost its’ mind. Then of course, Luck surged back and—thanks to the refs giving a bogus 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty to safety T.J. McDonald—the Cardinal scored to tie it, and take it to overtime. USC continued to put up a fight against The Farm, but alas, a fumble in the third OT would seal their fate. Regardless of how it ended, this game showed all the non-believers that this USC team was playing no games this season, and they dared anyone to doubt them.

USC beats Oregon at Autzen Stadium: For anyone paying attention to USC since the Matt Leinart Era, he or she will know that USC is cursed in the state of Oregon. From nearly eight years, whenever USC went to that God-forsaken state, something stupid would happen, and the Trojans would return to LA with their title dreams dashed, knowing that this loss certainly meant a return to the Rose Bowl. Keep in mind this was before the University of Oregon got good at football, so all of these losses were upsets. If either Oregon or Oregon State came to the Coliseum, they were beat down mercilessly. But the other way around…chaos. For a long time, USC never knew what it felt like to be on the other side of one of these upsets. This season though, USC finally got its’ taste—and let me tella ya—it tasted GREAT.

The Trojans went into Autzen like nobody told them they were underdogs. At one point in the third quarter, the Trojans had a 38-14 lead over the Ducks, and Autzen Stadium—which is notoriously hard to play in—was silent, save for the cheers from the Trojan Faithful that peppered the stadium. Oregon did make a late comeback, but when faced with making the game-tying field goal, the Ducks’ kicker couldn’t hack it, and shanked the kick. Needless to say, Trojan Nation went NUTS. For the first time in two seasons, USC looked like itself again. Also, freshman Marquis Lee had a HUGE game, letting us all know that he was the truth, and would be a force for years to come before the NFL paychecks start rolling in.

Oh, and for the record: No, USC fans did NOT rush the field when they beat the Ducks; elite programs don’t do that. They know they are the best: the all-time record between the schools say so.

USC ends the season with a 50-0 victory over UCLA: Dear Rick Neuheisel: Remember when you said, “the monopoly in Los Angeles is officially over?” Peep the scoreboard. 50-0. ‘Nuff said.

Matt Barkley announces that he will return for his senior year: After a crazy 10-2 run this season, there really wasn’t much more that one could ask of the Trojans. They gracefully returned to greatness, silencing the haters (read: NCAA and Larry Scott) and reminded everyone just who they are. They essentially laughed in the face on the crippling violations, and flipped the NCAA two gigantic middle fingers in the process. The only thing that would make the season that much sweeter, would be if junior quarterback Matt Barkley would choose to stay, and lead USC all the way to Miami next season. But let’s be real: Barkley was coming off a great season, posted crazy stats and had all the reason in the world to leave USC behind, and to turn pro. And honestly, no one would’ve blamed him: he helped USC rise back to the top, and that alone will give him a spot in Trojan lore. Then, in early December, in front of USC’s six Heismans, a gigantic Christmas tree, the Spirit of Troy Marching Band, the Song Girls, and some fans, Matty Ice announced that he would let the NFL wait another season and return for his senior year.

It was at that moment that Barkley made it clear that he had every intention of going down as one of the greatest Trojans in history. He fully embodied and understood what it really means to don the cardinal and gold, and to represent Troy: it’s about commitment. Loyalty. About facing your challenges head on and never making excuses. It’s about never giving up, even when giving up is the easier, safer move. When USC first got its sanctions, Barkley made it clear that he had no intention of transferring, and as a result, his troops followed suit. He is the real reason USC is back, and I think I can speak for all of Trojan nation when I say that the fans are thankful. Heck, Barkley even made Lane Kiffin seem like a likeable guy, and that seemed like an impossible feat just a season ago.

So for all you have done for this USC program, Mr. Barkley, Trojan Nation is forever grateful.

In 2011, USC sports teams made one thing clear: all they do is win, win, win, no matter what. It’s no wonder that the USC marching band plays that song (thank you, DJ Khaled and friends!) at the beginning of every USC sporting event. These squads come to win, and they leave all criticism at the door. Let’s hope that in 2012, just as many wild, crazy, and unbelievable memories will be made in Troyland.

Let the games begin.

Happy New Year Everyone!