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USC must win to keep NCAA tournament hopes alive

Whether the Trojans defeat Washington in their final regular-season game on Saturday night in Seattle, USC's only realistic hope of March Madness is to win the upcoming Pacific 10 tournament.

March 04, 2011|By Baxter Holmes
  • USC guard Donte Smith and the rest of the Trojans hope they'll be celebrating Saturday following their regular-season finale against Washington.
USC guard Donte Smith and the rest of the Trojans hope they'll be celebrating… (Kirby Lee / U.S. Presswire )

There was some discussion this week as to whether USC was a possible "bubble" team for an at-large NCAA tournament bid.

But the Trojans doused that debate and popped that bubble, if it even existed, Thursday night in an 85-77 loss at Washington State.

USC has one regular-season game left, Saturday night against Washington (20-9, 11-6 Pacific 10 Conference) in Seattle.

Win or lose, the Trojans' only realistic hope of March Madness is to win the upcoming Pacific Life Pac-10 tournament at Staples Center.

By winning the conference tournament, USC (17-13, 9-8) would earn its automatic berth for the NCAA tournament.

"Bottom line, we've just got to win," USC Coach Kevin O'Neill said by phone Friday. "It's all about winning now."

What the Trojans have on their side is that regardless of Saturday's outcome against the Huskies, USC will finish among the top six teams in the conference standings, meaning it will earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament and would have to win only three games in three days rather than four games in four days.

And if USC fails to win the conference tournament, it's still considered a near lock to make the NIT tournament.

All those are comforting thoughts for USC fans, considering the Trojans close their regular season against Washington, the team picked by media to win the conference title in the preseason.

"We've got to control the tempo of the game with our defense and our shot selection and give ourselves a chance going down the stretch," O'Neill said.

The Huskies' high-powered offense ranks first nationally in scoring (84.9 points a game) while USC's defense leads the Pac-10 for points allowed (63).

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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