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Trojans Miss Some Big Chances

Poor free-throw shooting down the stretch dooms USC in 73-67 loss to Stanford. Trojans drop to seventh in conference.

February 21, 2003|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

Errick Craven had wanted better referees.

Gregg Guenther didn't want the game to come down to the final minutes.

USC should have wished for better free-throw shooting.

The Trojans, usually clutch at the free-throw line down the stretch, missed the front end of two one-and-one opportunities and bricked two other free throws in the final six-plus minutes against No. 21 Stanford and paid for it with a 73-67 loss Thursday night.

"Those were big free throws that we missed," USC Coach Henry Bibby said. "Those were a big key and made it really tough."

They also helped saddle the Trojans with a three-game losing streak and dropped them to 10-12 overall and 5-8 in the Pacific 10 Conference, poor enough for the No. 7 seed in the league tournament. Stanford, led by forward Justin Davis' 20 points and 14 rebounds, improved to 20-6, 11-3.

USC was clutching a 61-58 lead in front of 4,818 at the Sports Arena when Craven went to the line for a one-and-one chance with 6:27 remaining and missed his first shot, Stanford grabbing the rebound.

Fifty seconds later, and with USC holding the same lead, Desmon Farmer, who finished with a game-high 24 points, approached the stripe and missed his free throw.

And Stanford led, 66-65, with 3:13 to play when Craven had a chance to atone for his earlier miss, but he clanged both attempts.

Craven, who was in such a playful mood Wednesday when he made reference to the referees calling the Trojans for 28 fouls to the Cardinal's 14 in the teams' first meeting of the season, was in no mood to talk after this game as he blew past reporters.

The sophomore shooting guard finished with 14 points, five steals and three assists, but he made only six of 24 shot from the field, including one of six from three-point territory, and made one of five free throws.

"He was real frustrated," said Craven's twin brother, Derrick. "He could have put us in a position to win the game and didn't. But he still put up some numbers for us, helped us get [in a position to win] the game."

The Trojans' prospects to pull the upset could have been better had they been healthy.

Already without sophomore point guard Brandon Brooks, who was lost for the year when he broke his left leg Jan. 14, USC was missing junior guard Roy Smiley, who did not dress after tweaking his right knee in practice Wednesday.

Plus, sophomore power forward Nick Curtis, hobbled by a sore right foot, was limited to five minutes.

Bibby's bench was only three deep against the Cardinal.

"The way our rotation was, we were concentrating on defense the second half, we might have gotten a little tired," Derrick Craven acknowledged.

But with seemingly sound players in junior center Jonathan Oliver and junior forward Jerry Dupree, Bibby left both languishing on the bench.

"Coach's decision," Bibby said. "You can't play everybody. I'm sure the walk-ons wanted to play.

"You have to fit in the type of game we were playing."

Against the bigger Cardinal, a slow-down game worked in USC's favor, until the Trojans tired down the stretch.

"We just didn't capitalize on our opportunities," said forward Gregg Guenther, who came off the bench to get his second consecutive double-double with 10 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. "There's progress, but we're still coming up short."

Said Farmer, who was shooting 82.5% from the line entering the game: "We missed free throws and open shots. They just didn't fall for us."

The only thing that fell for the Trojans was their seeding for the Pac-10 tournament.

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