USC departs Bay Area with painful losses

“We lose close games over and over,” Trojans coach Kevin O’Neill said. “It’s a shame that we play as hard as we play all year and (are) not … rewarded with some wins.”

O’Neill’s club left the Bay Area after absorbing two more painfully close defeats. The Trojans lost 53-49 at Cal, then 51-43 at Stanford.

The Bears are a veteran club that was picked to finish second in the Pac-12. O’Neill wasn’t surprised by them. But he didn’t expect what he saw from Stanford.

“I’m shocked that a team as young (as Stanford) is as good as they are defensively,” O’Neill said.

The Trojans never had a chance at the finish against Stanford, but nearly pulled off a massive upset in Berkeley. Maurice Jones hit three 3-pointers to erase most of a 16-point deficit before a strange play turned the game in the Bears’ direction.

USC sophomore 7-footer Dewayne Dedmon blocked a layup try by Cal’s Jorge Gutierrez with less than 10 seconds left in a one-point game, but the ball went directly to the Bears’ Allen Crabbe. Aware that the shot clock was about to expire, Crabbe quickly heaved the ball toward the basket.

In the process, reserve guard Eric Strangis fouled him. Because Crabbe was behind the 3-point arc, he got three free throws. Crabbe made them and the Trojans sustained another one of those agonizing defeats O’Neill talks about.
   –The Trojans enter play at home against the Arizona schools averaging just 54.5 points per game — worst in the Pac-12.
   –USC is allowing just 55.5 points per game — best in the conference. No team has scored more than 66 points against the Trojans, and nine of 15 foes have been held under 60.
   –Free throws continue to sabotage the Trojans. They were just 9-for-17 at Stanford and 7-for-15 at Cal, dropping their season percentage to 59.6 — worst in the league.
   BY THE NUMBERS: 6 — Times the Trojans were held under 50 points in their first 15 games.
   QUOTE TO NOTE: “This is painful to go through right now, but that’s life. We’re right there in every game.” — USC coach Kevin O’Neill on the team’s growing pains.
   –vs. Arizona State, Jan. 5

KEY MATCHUPS: First team to 35 wins, right? Well, not quite that bad, but it will be a major upset if this is not a low-scoring defensive duel. The Trojans must deal with sophomore Keala King, successfully making the transition to point guard and likely eager to make a good impression on a trip home to Los Angeles. The Trojans also must keep a defensive rein on ASU’s versatile junior Trent Lockett.
   –vs. Arizona, Jan. 8

KEY MATCHUPS: The thin Trojans must find someone to slow two-time Pac-12 player of the week Solomon Hill, a versatile junior forward who can play in the low post or facing the basket. USC also will keep an eye on Arizona freshman G Nick Johnson, who has shown a mature game so far. Arizona took two of three meetings a year ago, but the Trojans won 65-57 at the Galen Center.

FUTURES MARKET: Freshman G Alexis Moore simply needs the consistency that comes with experience to become a significant part of the Trojans’ offense. He managed just two points at Cal, then scored a team-high 12 in the loss at Stanford. It was his fifth double-digit scoring game of the season and third in the past five games. In those five outings, Moore converted 10 of 24 shots from the 3-point arc. Boy, do the Trojans need more from Moore.
   –Sophomore G Maurice Jones scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half at Cal, then had perhaps his worst game of the season at Stanford. He was scoreless at halftime and finished with a season-low five points on 1-for-12 shooting.
   –C Dewayne Dedmon shot 9-for-12 from the field over two games in the Bay Area. The sophomore 7-footer had eight points and four rebounds against Cal, then scored 10 points at Stanford.
   –F Aaron Fuller, the Trojans’ second option on offense, had a quiet weekend in the Bay Area. He arrived averaging 11.9 points and 6.8 rebounds, but totaled 13 points on 4-for-11 shooting in the losses to Cal and Stanford.