Oooh, that hurt. That was a sock to the nose, eyes left too blurry to be exactly sure what was happening. Yep, that was some Pacific-10 Tournament for our local teams, if your tastes run to mortification and disbelief. “We’re going to treat it as an aberration,” USC coach Tim Floyd said. “I have a lot of belief in these young men. I think they’re going to come out and really have a great week of practice.” Hey, a great practice has suddenly become all the rage with USC and UCLA. Now, both teams are licking their wounds, trying to enter the NCAA Tournament, reconfiguring their suddenly unsteady psyches. UCLA will still nab either a first or second seed today and likely will remain out West, but how USC is seeded or where it ends up is a complete unknown. The Trojans are 23-11, finished in a three-way tie for third in the Pac-10 and made it to the conference tournament final. All very impressive. Floyd said he hoped the NCAA selection committee would seed USC the same as any other conference third-place team, though he admitted, “If they watched today, it might be 16.” Anyone watching must have thought Dick Enberg had lost his senses when he said the Trojans had actually won their first two games against the Ducks. No, come on, tell us what really happened. There is no question the Ducks are suddenly the biggest thing to hit the Pacific Northwest since the Oregon Trail. After losing six of eight, the Ducks have won seven consecutive games, each victory more impressive than the last. “Sometimes you can sense when a team gets on a special ride,” Oregon coach Ernie Kent said. “We’re on one now.” The Ducks blew out Arizona, Cal and USC to sweep to a tournament title that was supposed to be earmarked for regular-season champion UCLA. But these Ducks looked a lot like the Bruins who swept to the conference tournament title last year and kept rolling all the way to the NCAA title game, a team peaking at exactly the right moment. They played unexpectedly strong defense, had a terrific inside-out game, ran the floor, hit the boards and shot the ball like they were dropping it into Crater Lake. Harvard-Westlake product Bryce Taylor threatened to outscore the Trojans by himself. The Oregon forward was what you might consider to be hot, as in center of the Earth run by guys with tails and pitchforks. Taylor hit every shot he took. Every 3-pointer, every field goal, every free throw. He finished with 32 points. He was perfect as a dream. Venus de Milo with arms. “That was one of the most phenomenal performances I’ve seen in college basketball,” Kent said. USC had absolutely no answer, for him or anything else in Oregon green. The Trojans were outrebounded 43-26. Outshot 53.6 percent to 37.7 percent. They were outhustled and outplayed all day long. “It was embarrassing,” USC guard Nick Young said. “They came out playing with more intensity, came out fired up. They just played better tonight. They were the better team.” Young and Gabe Pruitt, who had been electric on Friday against Washington State – particularly in the first half – looked more like not-ready-for-prime time players Saturday, or at least not ready for the NBA. Young went 3 for 8. When he hit a 3-pointer late in the first half, it was his first basket since the first half of the WSU game. Pruitt finished 2 for 12, hitting his first shot and then only one of his next11. “I guess I wasn’t ready for their pressure,” Pruitt said. Guess USC just wasn’t ready for the buzzsaw that the Ducks have suddenly become. “They’re playing at a different level right now,” Floyd said. “They were tremendous today. They beat us in all phases of the game.” The thing is, the Trojans thought they were playing at a high level. Height here apparently is a relative term. Certainly, the Trojans will have to recover from this shellacking and raise their game this week in the NCAA Tournament. Will have to display more fight, tighter defense, more purpose. The Trojans have been somewhat difficult to quantify this season, playing a small lineup that seemed to overachieve, that was supposed to be a year away, and hold the (O.J) Mayo. “We’ve had a good year,” Floyd said. “We’re excited about the NCAA Tournament and look forward to the pairings and seeing where that goes. I have a great belief system in our players. They’re a resilient group that’s bounced back after every loss. We trust that we’ll learn from this and come back and play better in the tournament.” Think that’s a safe assumption. Now there will be one more thing to watch in the NCAA Tournament – how USC and UCLA recover from their conference tournament. Steve Dilbeck’s column appears in the Daily News four times a week. [email protected] dailynews.com (818) 713-3607 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Like it wasn’t bad enough that No. 4 UCLA made for the quick exit against a middling Cal team, USC had to one-up the Bruins by being completely dismantled in the tournament final by Oregon, apparently the greatest seven-loss team in the history of college basketball. The final offered more carnage than the movie “300.” It wasn’t a game, it was Mount Vesuvius vs. Pompeii, baby seal vs. club. The Trojans, who had played so well in winning their opening two tournament games, were left shell-shocked. They weren’t angry but numb, not irate but embarrassed. That sort of happens when you play in a conference title game on national television and find yourself trailing by, oh, a mere 39points. The USC scrubs had to go on an 18-3 run Saturday to end the game to make it only an 81-57 pummeling. You weren’t sure whether to offer the Trojans sympathy or condolences.
January 11, 2020
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