So who opened the door and let cold-shooting Western Kentucky inside?
From shooting the lights out to shooting themselves in the foot, the same Hilltopper team that turned a three-point deficit into a six-point lead in the first 11 minutes of the second half went belly up down the stretch, a definite case of bad timing. USC, not in the position to blow such an opportunity, turned the game back in its favor and scored a 53-47 nonconference victory Monday night before a crowd of 3,419 at the Sports Arena.
A summary of Western Kentucky's collapse:
--One field goal in the last 8:12.
--Three points in the same stretch, a free throw by Fred Tisdale with 7:30 to play and a basket by Roland Shelton with 34 seconds remaining.
--Seven misses in eight tries from the field in the final 8:12.
--Dismal 29% shooting from the floor in the second half.
Thus, the Hilltoppers lost a 41-35 lead and a chance to improve their record to 8-1. Instead, USC had its second straight win to improve to 3-7.
"Defense and rebounding," Trojan Coach George Raveling said. "I felt we had a good chance to win when I saw how many times we dove for a loose ball on the floor. We must have set a school record for as long as I've been here for guys on the floor."
Down by eight points, 45-37, with 7:30 to play, USC picked itself up to win. While the offense was consistent if not spectacular, the key was the Trojans' ability to shut down Western Kentucky guard Brett McNeal, who shot the Hilltoppers into the lead early in the second half but followed the lead of his teammates down the stretch.
McNeal, who came in averaging 19.5 points a game, did score a game-high 22. But, with Brad Winslow guarding him late in the game, the 6-foot 3-inch junior missed his final six shots, and nobody could pick up the slack.
"At the end it was determination," said Winslow, who, after opening the season 7 of 32 from the field (18%) had his second straight hot night, scoring a team-high 18 points with a 7-of-13 effort. "We tried to force him to his right, but he's a good player. He kept trying to go to his left and we kept trying to cut him off."
There were other fine efforts on defense by the Trojans. Western Kentucky forward Steve Miller,who came in averaging 13.5 points a game, was shut out in 22 minutes. Center Anthony Smith (13.5) scored 6 in 37 minutes. Guard Shelton (10.0) had 2 in 30 minutes on 1-of-7 shooting. Finally, the Trojans had 19 defensive rebounds and 30 overall, four more than than Western Kentucky, and no Hilltopper had double figures in rebounds.
Rich Grande, who started alongside Winslow in the backcourt, scored 12 for the Trojans, with freshman Ronnie Coleman adding 9. All the Trojans' scoring came from the starting lineup.
"Southern California is not a bad basketball team by any means," Western Kentucky Coach Murray Arnold said. "They did a good job out there tonight. They did an excellent job of controlling the tempo."