It could have been their crowning achievement, USC's seniors cutting down the Sports Arena nets tonight after their final home game as Pacific 10 Conference regular-season champions.
Instead, the Trojans, who play host to Oregon State today, are playing for a middle-of-the-Pac-10 seeding for next week's league tournament and are again being challenged by their coach.
These things happen when a team blows an 11-point lead and loses its fourth game of the season on a shot in the closing seconds, as happened Thursday when Frederick Jones' runner with one second remaining gave Oregon a 67-65 victory and a share of the Pac-10 title. A sweep of the Oregon schools would have given USC at least a share of its first league title since 1985.
"We haven't had that killer instinct to put [teams] away and, again, it comes back to leadership," Trojan Coach Henry Bibby said. "Who's the leader on this team to take things on their shoulders and say, 'I'm not going to let this happen again?' We don't have anyone to do that, and that's been an Achilles' heel for us."
Bibby went down his laundry list of clutch Pac-10 performers, whimsically suggesting that Stanford's Casey Jacobsen, Arizona's Jason Gardner and Luke Walton, UCLA's Jason Kapono and Billy Knight, and Oregon's Jones and Luke Ridnour all have a gene that does not allow their teams to lose in such heartbreaking fashion.
"We don't have that person to do that yet," Bibby said.
USC has given up six buzzer-beating shots, a game-winner against Pepperdine; one to send the game into overtime against California and one to win it with two seconds remaining in the extra period; one at halftime at UCLA and one at the buzzer to give the Bruins the win; and Jones' heroics Thursday.
The Trojans have held sizable leads in each of their last-second losses, leading Pepperdine by 11 with seven minutes to play, California by 10 with 8:10 remaining, UCLA by nine with seconds remaining in the first half and Oregon by 11 with 11 minutes to go.
"I could see how [people] could say that we don't have that [killer instinct]," said USC point guard Brandon Granville, who will be honored today during pregame senior-day festivities with David Bluthenthal, Gennaro Busterna and Sam Clancy.
Freshman guard Errick Craven said the Trojans begin to pace themselves after getting a big lead.
"We're not as aggressive," Craven said. "The thing that got us [the lead] was being aggressive, not being afraid of taking shots."
Today's game against the ninth-place Beavers is more about pride for the Trojans.
"Now it's time for them to pull themselves up from the bootstraps and say, 'Hey, now we're going to take it on ourselves,'" Bibby said. "'We're not going to sit here and wait for Coach to give us another motivational speech or show us any more tape. I've got to do it myself.' That's what has to happen."