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College Basketball

USC Sees Big Lead Disappear in Loss

Trojans build 21-point advantage, but Washington launches a second-half comeback for 76-72 victory.

January 05, 2003|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — USC should be used to losing games in the last few seconds.

That doesn't mean it gets any easier. Especially not when the Trojans blow a 21-point lead in the process.

USC, which lost four games on last-second shots last season and one this season, was bushwhacked again at Washington on Saturday night.

Bobby Jones' conversion of a Doug Wrenn airball with three seconds to play, and two Will Conroy free throws a second later, gave the Huskies an unlikely 76-72 comeback win over the exasperated Trojans in front of a boisterous crowd of 7,086 at Bank of America Arena.

"This is just terrible," said Trojan sophomore power forward Nick Curtis, who had his second career double-double with 17 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.

Terrible? By the looks on the Trojans' faces as they made their way to their bus after the loss, which dropped them to 5-4 overall, 1-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference, it was worse than that.

USC had, after all, run Washington ragged early, harassing the horrible-shooting Huskies into turnovers and converting on the other end while bolting out to a 22-3 lead less than nine minutes into the game.

USC eventually held a game-high 21-point advantage, 30-9, after a Curtis basket at the 6:11 mark.

But on the play, in which Curtis was fouled, Trojan sophomore point guard Brandon Brooks was called for a technical foul for taunting and Washington suddenly came to life.

Instead of the Trojans going up by 22 points, with a successful free-throw conversion by Curtis, Jones made both free throws on the technical, Curtis missed his free throw and Wrenn, who had a game-high 24 points to go along with 11 rebounds, immediately made a three-pointer for a six-point swing.

The recharged Huskies also started to utilize a full-court press and outscored the Trojans, 10-2, in the final 90 seconds of the half to close the gap to 10 points at intermission, 40-30.

"That swung things, that was a big technical foul," said USC Coach Henry Bibby. "A 10-point game at halftime is nothing. A 20-point game is nothing so early on."

As Washington began to creep back, the Trojans went stagnant in their half-court offense. Curtis and sophomore guard Errick Craven, who had a career high-tying 10 rebounds, were the only Trojans to grab more than five boards.

"We always have to be on the attack," said sophomore point guard Derrick Craven, who jump-started the Trojans' early run and finished with career highs in points (10), rebounds (five) and steals (four).

"[Washington] just started making buckets and we were making mental mistakes as far as the press goes."

Washington finally took the lead, its first advantage since scoring the first basket of the game, at 66-65 on a pair of Wrenn free throws with 4:49 to play.

Still, the Trojans had a chance to go up with 36.5 seconds remaining when Curtis stepped to the free-throw line with Washington leading, 72-71.

After making the first shot to tie the score, Curtis missed the second and with the shot clock nearly identical to the game clock, Washington set up for a game-winner.

Wrenn drove to the basket, where he was met in the lane by USC seven-footer Jonathan Oliver. His presence altered the shot, which hit nothing, and, with the Trojans boxing out awaiting a carom, came down into the arms of Conroy, who put the ball in the basket.

Craven then took the ensuing inbounds pass but stepped on the sideline to give possession back to the Huskies. Trojan guard Roy Smiley fouled Conroy to send him to the line.

And the lesson USC learned?

"We've got to play every game like it's our last," Curtis said with a sigh. "We've got to play every minute like it's the last minute."

Unless, of course, you lose in that last minute.

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