SACRAMENTO — USC lost four games on four improbable last-second shots this year.
It takes four wins in the NCAA tournament for a team to advance to the Final Four.
Paging Ms. Karma.
"In the regular season, we thought we saw some crazy things," USC senior forward Sam Clancy said. "But wait until we get into the tournament."
The 18th-ranked Trojans' run begins Thursday against North Carolina Wilmington in a South Regional game at Sacramento. And while fourth-seeded USC is expected to handle the 13th-seeded Seahawks, the Trojans insist that they are not looking past them and deeper into their bracket.
All USC has to do to stay grounded is remember that rash of buzzer-beating losses this season. Plus, USC has been burned in the NCAA tournament before by a last-second three-point prayer.
USC Coach Henry Bibby, who often wears a cap with a Final Four symbol sewed into it, said earlier this year that the nature of the losses would only make the Trojans stronger for a possible postseason sprint, that they built character.
But even he had his fill of grief after Oregon's Frederick Jones made a runner in the lane with one second on the clock, giving the Ducks a come-from-behind 67-65 victory on Feb. 28 at the Sports Arena. The loss knocked USC out of the regular-season Pacific 10 Conference title chase.
"How much character do I want?" Bibby said at the time.
Senior forward David Bluthenthal began the Pac-10 tournament saying that winning the three-day affair would ease the last-second blues for the Trojans, who finished in a four-way tie for second place.
But after running out of gas in the second half of the championship game Saturday against Arizona, the tune was the same.
"There's still a sting," Bluthenthal said. "We didn't win the tournament. So once again we finished second in the Pac-10 and that's a tough thing considering [the missed opportunities]."
Pepperdine was the first team to break USC's heart at the buzzer. Craig Lewis banked in a three-pointer from 25 feet with 2.5 seconds to play to give the Waves a 78-77 victory at the Forum on Dec. 6. USC had led by 11 with 8:02 remaining.
Then California pulled it off twice in one night on Jan. 24. Brian Wethers sank a three-pointer from the corner at the Sports Arena to send the game into overtime before Shantay Legans beat the Trojans, 92-91, with a 26-footer from the left wing with three seconds remaining in overtime. USC had led by 10 in the second half and by four with 37 seconds remaining in the extra period.
UCLA's Billy Knight was next to stick it to the Trojans on Feb. 6. After a mad scramble for the ball under the basket, Knight found nothing but net from the right wing as the Pauley Pavilion buzzer sounded. The three-pointer gave the Bruins a 67-65 victory after USC had led by nine late in the first half.
Then came Jones' winner that clinched at least a share of the league title for the Ducks in a game the Trojans had led by 11 with 11 minutes to go.
"To tell you the truth, I stopped thinking about those last-second shots," senior point guard Brandon Granville said. "I haven't been thinking about those since the last one, I guess."
But those shots have caused USC fans to relive the Trojans' painful exit from the 1992 NCAA tournament.
Led by Harold Miner, USC was ranked eighth in the nation and seeded second in the Midwest Region. After thumping Northeast Louisiana, 84-54, USC was seemingly headed to the Sweet 16, with a two-point lead over Georgia Tech with less than one second remaining.
James Forrest, though, tossed in a three-pointer from 30 feet to send the Trojans home.
No one doubts that a sustained USC run over the next few weeks would make accepting the Trojans' recent history of bad luck at the buzzer more palatable. Just being seeded fourth, USC's highest NCAA placing in 10 years, calmed Clancy.
"They're gone," he said of the memories of losing so many games at the buzzer. "They finally left and I don't feel them at all. It's a new season and we got a good seed."