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For the Trojans, a lost cause early on

USC trails from the start and never makes much headway against No. 14 Minnesota at the Galen Center.

December 08, 2012|By Diane Pucin
  • Jio Fontan loses the ball to Minnesota's Rodney Williams Jr., left, and Minnesota's Austin Hollins USC's 71-57 loss to the Golden Gophers on Saturday at the Galen Center.
Jio Fontan loses the ball to Minnesota's Rodney Williams Jr., left,… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)

USC was behind very early and very late and all the places in between Saturday at the Galen Center on its way to a 71-57 loss to 14th-ranked Minnesota.

It was the fifth straight loss for the Trojans (3-6). The most noise came when the fans voted to hear a Justin Bieber song during a second-half timeout.

"The bad start doomed us," USC Coach Kevin O'Neill said. "It just did."

A glance at the box score gave all the evidence for why the Trojans lost.

They had 17 turnovers. They missed their first seven three-point attempts (Byron Wesley made one with 6:25 left in the game) and ended up one-for-11 from three-point range. They missed eight free throws. They were outrebounded, 40-32.

Even before some fans had taken their seats, USC was behind 9-0. "That makes it extremely difficult," O'Neill said.

"In a stretch like we've been in, you can't afford to get down early. You can't have 17 turnovers, you can't start slow, you can't miss free throws. That will doom you."

Joe Coleman scored with a layup to put the Golden Gophers (10-1) ahead 2-0 and after Andre Hollins hit a 20-foot jump shot, Minnesota was ahead 9-0.

It took USC nearly four minutes to score, on a driving layup by guard Jio Fontan. But that wasn't the beginning of anything good for the Trojans.

At one point in the first half, after a layup from Andre Hollins, Minnesota led 27-12.

USC brought no good momentum to start the second half, either. In its first five possessions, there were three turnovers and two missed shots. An Eric Wise jumper with 17:20 left was the first USC score of the second half, but Minnesota still was up 40-28.

The closest the Trojans could get in the second half was nine points — once after Omar Oraby (a game-high 15 points, all in the second half) worked hard for a layup and again when Byron Wesley hit a jumper to make it 63-54 in favor of the Gophers.

Oraby, a 7-foot-2 transfer from Rice, also brought the crowd alive with a ferocious blocked shot in the second half.

Five of USC's six losses have come against ranked teams: Illinois, Marquette, San Diego State, New Mexico and Minnesota. O'Neill said there will be a future benefit to the tough opening stretch of games. "It's no consolation to lose to five ranked teams," he said, "but we'll learn from it."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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