When UCLA and USC opened the Pacific 10 Conference season Dec. 28, a game UCLA won, the Bruins had the look of a team with NCAA tournament potential and the Trojans looked like a team still finding itself.
As USC closed out the conference regular season Saturday with an 80-77 victory over UCLA in front of 5,222 in the Sports Arena, the positions looked reversed from the 62-61 win by the Bruins nearly two months ago.
USC (18-9 overall, 12-6 in the Pac-10) had to survive a missed three-point shot by Nikki Blue at the buzzer to force overtime. The Trojans have their most regular-season wins since going 19-8 in 1996-97 -- the last season they made the NCAA field of 64. Up first, though, is the Pac-10 tournament in San Jose. The Trojans are seeded fourth and play fifth-seeded Arizona on Saturday at 7:15 p.m.
Coach Mark Trakh said his team has made a strong argument for an at-large NCAA berth.
"The way I'm looking at it, we're in a three-way tie [with Oregon and Arizona State] at 12-6. How can they not take those three teams? You're going to take a 7-7 or 6-8 team from another conference? You've got to look at that hard," Trakh said.