DAYTON, Ohio — USC was relieved to receive a bid to this year’s NCAA Tournament. Now, the Trojans get a shot at redemption against Providence.
After starting the season 14-0 and not losing a game until December 30, USC (24-9) lost four of six to close the season, including a particularly bad loss at Arizona State. The Trojans then had to sweat it out on Selection Sunday.
“We thought we were in the tournament,” USC coach Andy Enfield told the Los Angeles Daily News. “We thought we deserved to be. We didn’t know what seed. Of course, there’s always a small chance when you take it out of your hands.”
Wins over SMU and UCLA highlighted the Trojans’ resume, which earned them a trip to the NCAA Tournament First Four at University of Dayton Arena, where they will face the Friars in a matchup of No. 11 seeds on Wednesday night.
If familiarity truly breeds contempt, there will be no lack of motivation for the Trojans, who were beaten by Providence on Rodney Bullock’s last-second layup on an inbounds pass in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament.
A missed free throw by USC’s Julian Jacobs with 11 seconds left helped set up the game-winning shot for the Friars.
The winner of Wednesday night’s game will face No. 6 seed SMU (30-4) on Friday in Tulsa.
The Friars (20-12) are playing in their fourth straight NCAA Tournament despite losing top talents from last season in Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil.
Several key contributors in last year’s first-round thriller are back for both USC and Providence.
Bullock who scored 16 points, leads the Friars this season with 15.7 points per game. Kyron Cartwright had 10 points in last year’s tilt and is Providence’s third-leading scorer at 11.4 points.
The Trojans are led by Bennie Boatwright, one of four Trojans in double figures with 14.6 points per game. Point guard Jordan McLaughlin, USC’s leading scorer in the first-round loss to the Friars, ranks third on the team with 13.1 points while Chimezie Metu averages 14.5. The Trojans have four starters back from last season.
Both teams are battle-tested heading into the tournament. USC lost by just two points to No. 3 seed UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament, narrowly missing their second victory in three meetings with the Bruins.
Providence toiled this season in the Big East Conference, which sent seven of its 10 members to the NCAA Tournament, the highest percentage of any league this season.
While USC felt relief on Selection Sunday, Providence was left to wonder why it was seeded below Big East rivals Marquette and Xavier, teams it went a combined 3-1 against during the regular season. But, coach Ed Cooley wouldn’t quibble.
“We’re excited to be back in,” Cooley told the Providence Journal. “A lot of people have asked me if we feel slighted. No, we earned our way into the tournament. As long as you’re there you have a chance to advance. It’s a quick turnaround, so we have to get our team ready to play.”