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Trojans Struggle in Lead Role

March 08, 2004|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

As USC's 16-point lead against Oregon State dwindled with predictable pace Saturday, one thought crossed Desmon Farmer's mind.

"Not again," he said.

Jeff McMillan had similar sentiments. "It was like, 'Enough is enough,' " he said. " 'If we're going to make a run in the [Pacific 10 Conference] tournament, now's the time.' "

Even with the Trojans' 63-60 victory to close the regular season, their inability to hold big leads has long been a glaring weakness. And it's one that that could cost the sixth-place Trojans on Thursday at Staples Center in their tournament opener against 22nd-ranked Arizona at 8:45 p.m.

In Pac-10 play this season, USC has blown double-digit leads in losses to Arizona State, Washington, Stanford and Oregon and has lost nine-point advantages in defeats to Washington State and Arizona.

Against Oregon State, the Trojans' 16-point second-half lead turned into a two-point deficit before USC rallied.

"Yeah, it's kind of disappointing," junior guard Errick Craven said. "We just came out kind of lethargic. We were telling ourselves at halftime, 'Don't come out lethargic, bring the energy.'

"But it's just a mental wall."


Perhaps the strangest sight at Saturday's game -- besides the Beavers' having 21 free-throw attempts to the Trojans' one at one point, with USC called for 12 second-half fouls to two on Oregon State -- was Farmer's playing without his customary upside-down headband.

"I gave it away to a kid after the Oregon game [on Thursday] and I just forgot to get another one," Farmer said. "But it was no problem. I just rubbed Jeff and Lodrick [Stewart's] headbands for good luck."

It must have worked. Farmer needed 24 points to move his season scoring average to 20 points. A free throw with 23.1 seconds to play gave him 24. *

Farmer was scratching his unadorned head after being slapped with a technical foul with 4:48 remaining and the Trojans leading, 54-50.

"The ref said it was for taunting the crowd," said Farmer, who endured derisive chanting by the student section and turned toward it after making consecutive baskets. "I never heard of that. That was a first."

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