BERKELEY — This may be the time for those at USC to begin considering the advantages of playing in the NIT.
It will almost certainly mean at least one more home game, a bonus gate for the athletic budget. Freshman DeMar DeRozan might put it in the stay-in-school-file, under unfinished business, and forgo the NBA for a year. And, of course, the Trojans might actually go deep into that tournament, maybe even claiming the title of the No. 66 team in the nation.
But those perks were not to be considered in the USC locker room after an 81-78 overtime loss to California at Haas Pavilion on Thursday night.
The Trojans extended themselves -- three players logged 45 minutes -- as far as they could, rallying from a 12-point deficit in regulation to get to overtime. But Patrick Christopher had a career-high 29 points and the Golden Bears made all eight of their free throws in overtime to remain in the Pacific 10 Conference race.
Daniel Hackett launched a three-point shot at the buzzer that fell short. He pulled his jersey over his face and had to be consoled by teammates, as the Trojans were left with their fifth loss in their last six games.
A weary Hackett, ice packs on both shins and another on his left heel, sat in a funk in the locker room afterward, reliving that last shot.
"I got a good look, it felt great, I thought it was in," said Hackett, who had 26 points and played all 45 minutes. "I just didn't get enough lift in my legs. I feel bad."
The Trojans, 16-11 overall and 7-8 in conference play, may be feeling a whole lot worse. They have hardly distinguished themselves down the stretch. USC has won only three games outside of the Galen Center this season. The NCAA selection committee may take up those topics when discussing the Trojans.
"I'm not going to go there," Coach Tim Floyd said. "We saw a team with an 8-10 [conference] record make the tournament last season."
Hackett, though, was doing some math.
"We win our last three games, then get a couple in the Pac-10 tournament," he said. "We can make this game up in the Pac-10 tournament."
The Trojans nearly didn't need to, after closing with an 18-6 run in the last seven minutes of regulation. Both teams had a chance to win in the last 40 seconds of regulation. USC's Marcus Simmons had a shot blocked by two Bears players with 11 seconds left. California's Jerome Randle had a three-pointer hit off the rim at the buzzer.
The Bears (21-7, 10-5) started sinking free throws as soon as overtime began. Christopher made four in the last 30 seconds. California was 24 for 27 from the free-throw line. USC was 16 for 28.
"That is a big difference in a game like this," Floyd said. "They made their free throws and Christopher was terrific."
Christopher scored only four points against the Trojans in the first game between the teams, but he made 10 of 17 shots, none bigger than the fall-away jumper that gave the Golden Bears a 75-71 lead with a minute left in overtime.
"They worked him off screens really well," Floyd said.
California appeared to have the game in control in the second half. After shooting 65% in the first half, the Golden Bears started the second half with an 11-2 run and led, 59-47, with seven minutes left.
The Trojans seemed to have a loose hold on their situation. They opened the second half by missing their first seven shots and went five minutes without a point. Floyd was assessed a technical foul for being out of the coaching box with 10 minutes left.
They rallied. Then they lost.
"This was a tough one," Hackett said. "But we can't worry about that stuff now."