For O.J. Mayo, there may not always be next year.
So in a close game that his team desperately needed, the USC freshman guard asserted himself when the outlook became bleak.
Mayo scored 21 of his game-high 32 points in the second half to spearhead a comeback from a 15-point deficit and help the Trojans pull out an 81-75 victory over Oregon on Thursday night at the Galen Center.
One game after he turned in the worst performance of his college career with four points and 10 turnovers against UCLA, Mayo assembled a scrapbook's worth of memories, including a hard-to-believe 30-footer while falling down from the top of the key that gave the Trojans a 73-69 lead with 2 minutes 5 seconds remaining.
Mayo credited the crowd with an assist on the play for counting down the shot clock, which reached zero after he released the ball.
"We hit that shot a lot in H-O-R-S-E, so it was another opportunity," Mayo said.
Mayo's heroics prompted Trojans students in the final minute to chant "O.J.!, O.J.!, O.J!" to the tune of the "Ole!" soccer chant.
Make no mistake, though, this was hardly a one-man show.
The Trojans got unexpected contributions from freshman guard Angelo Johnson, who scored 14 points and made a key steal in the final minute, and junior forward Keith Wilkinson, who finished with a career-high 11 rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench.
They also proved they could win without sophomore guard Daniel Hackett, who is sidelined indefinitely by a stress fracture in his lower back. USC had been 0-3 in games in which he sat out or barely played.
The Trojans improved to 16-9 overall and 7-6 in the Pacific 10 Conference, moving into sole possession of fourth place in the conference standings.
"That was the best second half we've played this year on both ends," said USC Coach Tim Floyd, whose team wiped out a nine-point halftime deficit. "We certainly needed it."
Oregon (15-11, 6-8), which plays sixth-ranked UCLA on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion, faces an uphill climb to get into the NCAA tournament. If the Ducks lose to the Bruins, the best they can finish in the Pac-10 is 9-9 -- a record that has never resulted in an NCAA tournament invitation.
USC sophomore forward Taj Gibson, who finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, said that fact served as motivation against the Ducks. So did a fiery halftime speech from Floyd, who told his players that their postseason hopes hinged on defending better than they did in the opening 20 minutes.
"We just challenged each other, talked about rebounding and defense," Gibson said.
Mayo took care of the offensive end, making eight of 18 shots for the game, including five of seven from three-point range. He also made 11 of 13 free throws and finished with three steals and four turnovers -- only one of the turnovers coming in the second half.
Mayo completed the Trojans' comeback from a 13-point second-half deficit when he made a jumper to pull USC into a 59-59 tie with 8:32 remaining.
"We just focused on making sure we got a win to give ourselves a chance to get to the NCAA tournament," said Mayo, who put in extra practice time after the UCLA game. "We got it."