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USC BASKETBALL

Trojans' loss to Oregon turns on a bizarre technical aspect

A technical foul called on a USC student manager in the final five minutes blunts Trojans' momentum, helping turn a close game into a 67-57 Ducks victory at McArthur Court.

January 31, 2010|By Baxter Holmes

Reporting from Eugene, Ore. — The coach couldn't believe it. He looked at a reporter and said, "Can you believe it? Can you believe it?"

Then USC's Kevin O'Neill left the bowels of McArthur Court, still shocked -- not that the Trojans lost to Oregon, 67-57, Saturday, but that they lost their chances of winning when a student manager was called for a technical foul late in a tight game.

The call came with 4 minutes 35 seconds left and Oregon leading, 49-47. Stan Holt, a third-year manager, was deemed responsible.

"The referee told me he was screaming obscenities at him," O'Neill said. "That's on me and that will be rectified. It already has been. He's gone. If somebody's getting a technical foul, it's going to be me."

O'Neill later called the reporter and rescinded his remark that Holt was fired, saying he wasn't sure what punishment to hand down.

But the call no doubt changed the game. USC had scored seven straight to forge a 47-47 tie with 5:44 left. Then Tajuan Porter gave the Ducks the lead with a jumper.

USC's Nikola Vucevic missed a three-point attempt, Oregon's Teondre Williams grabbed the rebound, and the technical was called. Porter made the two free throws, starting a 13-3 run that put Oregon ahead, 62-50.

"I feel like it did change momentum of the game," said guard Dwight Lewis, who finished with a team-high 16 points. "After that, the momentum was all theirs."

"They had come right back up on us and we were not playing very well offensively," Oregon Coach Ernie Kent said of the technical's timing, though he also credited his team's defense for the ensuing run.

During a timeout with 3:59 left, Oregon's rowdy "Pit Crew" student section chanted "You're fired!" at Holt, who left USC's bench soon thereafter.

"Technicals happen on the court, but sometimes it happens off," USC forward Marcus Johnson said.

O'Neill apologized to the team after the game for Holt's actions, while Holt stood in a hallway 30 feet from the locker room. An official blocked a reporter's attempt to speak to Holt.

The incident soured USC's final game at the place they call "The Pit," which closes after the season, with a new arena opening next season. A crowd of 7,774 watched in Mac Court, where the Trojans (12-9 overall, 4-5 in Pacific 10 Conference play) had won four straight.

Saturday's loss extended USC's road woes this season: It has just one win in seven true road games, the lone victory coming at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. "We're not a great road team because we don't score great," O'Neill said.

The Trojans shot 23 for 56 from the field (41%), struggling to make outside shots against Oregon's ever-changing defense, which morphed between man-to-man and 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone.

"We don't shoot the ball very well from the outside," O'Neill said. "We don't shoot it zone, man, triangle and two, box and one, full-court press."

More troubling for USC: Oregon's Jeremy Jacob found room inside against usually stout post defenders Alex Stepheson and Vucevic, and scored a career-high 19 points.

Ducks guard Malcolm Armstead added 18.

USC trailed, 31-28, at halftime despite eight first-half turnovers that Oregon converted into 10 points.

"I just feel like in the beginning of the game, we had too many turnovers," Lewis said. "Same old song and dance, just too many turnovers."

The same problem hurt USC two days earlier, when it had 19 turnovers in a loss at Oregon State.

The Trojans finished with just 12 Saturday, only for an unusual technical to do them in.

"It deterred us from having a chance to win," O'Neill said. "It's unfortunate."

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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