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USC Takes Upset by Huskies Hard

The tears flow after the Trojans lose in quarterfinals, 67-50, ruling out NCAA bid.

March 07, 2004|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

SAN JOSE — When the USC Trojans look back on this season, they will be haunted by four words: "what should have been."

They should have upset No. 1 Connecticut. They should have beaten other ranked teams such as Colorado. They should have kept third place in the Pacific 10 Conference to themselves instead of having to share it with UCLA and Arizona State.

But too often this season, the 15-13 Trojans could not get the key victory they needed. And now their season is over, after being ousted by Washington on Saturday, 67-50, in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 tournament before 2,549 at HP Pavilion.

Well, over at least in terms of an NCAA tournament bid. The NIT may still come calling. But as a teary Ebony Hoffman said afterward, "I've done the NIT."

Hoffman, who led USC with 13 points, wasn't the only Trojan spilling out the emotions. The majority of the team was crying in the locker room. Coach Chris Gobrecht welled up repeatedly during the postgame news conference.

"It's the first time in [the] seven years I've been in a USC locker room, and it's been this kind of mess," Gobrecht said. "It's very hard for them to swallow the loss."

It's not hard to pinpoint why they lost. Washington (17-11) was seeded sixth -- USC was third -- but the Huskies took control midway though the first half with an aggressive zone defense that kept the Trojans on the outside and never let them get into a shooting rhythm. USC made only nine field goals in the first half and shot only 31.1% for the game. Hoffman was the lone Trojan in double figures.

"We felt like we beat a very good team," Washington Coach June Daugherty said. "USC has a lot of talent. [But] defensively we got after it today, and it made a difference. We tried to pressure the ball as much as we could."

At least the Trojans no longer have to face Giuliana Mendiola. The senior guard, who starred at Lake Forest El Toro High, has torched USC during her Washington career, averaging 20.1 points a game against USC.

On Saturday she did it again, with 29 points and a career-high 12 rebounds. And, as has been her trademark, Mendiola always seemed to get a basket or rebound when Washington needed it most.

"I love challenges and they definitely challenge me," Mendiola said. "They're very athletic, they pick me up full court. It's not one of my strengths to go by people. But they bring out the best in me. Every time we play them it's a battle, and we love battles."

Added Gobrecht, "We threw everything we had at her, and I don't know if we could have made it any tougher. She's a very good player. I'm very happy she's graduating. It will be a different Washington team next year without her."

The first indication of how cold the basket would be for USC came in the first half, when the Trojans went nearly six minutes without a field goal as Washington built a 26-11 lead. The advantage was still 31-20 at halftime.

Washington took its biggest lead, 43-26, on a 15-footer by Cameo Hicks at the 13:19 mark of the second half. The Trojans finally responded with a spurt, outscoring the Huskies, 13-2, over the next 3:09. But then Mendiola scored five straight points to put Washington back in charge.

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