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Trojans Find There's No Joy in Loss

A dismal 83-74 defeat at Sports Arena to Oregon State leaves USC with a three-game losing streak.

January 31, 2003|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

So much for that all that jazz about USC showing improvement in losses.

The Trojans, who had been showing steady progress of late, even if the wins were hard to come by, took major steps backward against Oregon State on Thursday night.

Sluggish, lackadaisical and listless, USC was embarrassed by the Beavers, 83-74, in front of 3,754 at the Sports Arena. It was the Trojans' fifth loss in six games.

"You don't want to know what I told them," Trojan Coach Henry Bibby said when asked what message he attempted to convey to his team after the defeat.

"It's about urgency," Bibby said. "This is not the end of anything. A couple of wins and we're back in the middle of things. But the most important thing is to protect the home court and we didn't do that.

"We didn't have any energy. I don't think we were ready to play, one of two or three times this year. There was no bounce, we weren't on our toes."

Instead, they were knocked off their feet.

The Trojans' energy against the Beavers was reminiscent of their low-wattage outputs in blowout losses to UC Santa Barbara and Pennsylvania.

As a result, USC (7-9 overall, 3-5 in the Pacific 10 Conference) has its first three-game losing streak since 2000, when the Trojans had five-game and three-game skids near the end of the season.

That was also the last time the Trojans were two games below .500 in Pac-10 play, when they were 7-9 until winning their final two games.

"It's what we deserve," sophomore forward Nick Curtis said, referring to both Bibby's tongue-lashing and the loss.

"I don't know if we overlooked [Oregon State]. We just didn't execute."

Oregon State (10-7, 3-5), the worst three-point shooting team in the Pac-10 at 28.2%, executed excellently beyond the arc against USC, converting 42.9% of its attempts.

Senior forward Brian Jackson had a game-high 26 points, making four of five three-point shots, and freshman reserve guard Chris Stephens, who entered the game averaging 2.8 points, had a career-high 15 points in 11 minutes of the first half.

"You can't let a guy like Stephens come in and do that," Bibby said.

With two new starters in the lineup -- junior Jerry Dupree at power forward for Curtis and senior Robert Hutchinson at the point instead of sophomore Derrick Craven -- Bibby was trying to jump-start the Trojans.

Instead, they struggled to find their offensive rhythm.

With the Trojans trying to find the right combination, they found themselves down, 24-20, midway through the first half. Then Roy Smiley got USC going.

USC used a 14-1 run, which included a pair of Smiley three-pointers, over the next three-plus minutes to grab a game-high nine-point lead, 34-25, with 6:33 to play.

But as has been the case all season, the Trojans could not sustain the momentum, and had only two field goals the rest of the half as Oregon State closed with a 17-6 run.

"We were kind of excited just to be home," said Smiley, who led USC with 16 points on five-of-16 shooting. "We wanted to get ahead and keep pounding them, but we let up. It's all about defense.

"You don't play defense, you can't win the game."

USC went to its usual starting lineup to begin the second half and after Oregon State went up, 44-40, USC responded with a 9-0 run.

But again, the Beavers answered and the Trojans faltered.

Hurt by foul trouble with Curtis, Errick Craven and Rory O'Neil all picking up their third fouls in a three-minute span and Craven getting called for his fourth at the 17:47 mark, USC was reduced to playing catch-up.

After the score was tied at 57-57 with 12:28 to play, Oregon State blew by USC with a 13-3 run in less than five minutes.

USC got within three on two occasions, 70-67 and 72-69, but could not get over the hump.

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