Fourteen games and the Pac-12 tournament.
That's how many opportunities Bob Cantu had to impress USC Athletic Director Pat Haden — and other possible employers — when USC's interim basketball coach sent the Trojans onto the floor against Oregon on Thursday night at the Galen Center.
Cantu might have requested a less formidable opponent than No. 21 Oregon in his first game.
The Trojans were close at halftime and hung with the Ducks to the final seconds before guard Jio Fontan missed a three-pointer and forwards Eric Wise and Dewayne Dedmon missed follows, sending the Trojans to a 76-74 defeat.
USC didn't help itself by making only 20 of 32 free throws.
"It was an emotional week for everybody," Cantu said. "I'm proud of our guys — they competed, they never gave up and took it to the end."
Guard J.T. Terrell scored a season-high 22 points and Wise added 17 for the Trojans, who dropped to 7-11 overall and 2-3 in Pac-12 Conference play.
Guard Damyean Dotson scored 16 points for Oregon, which improved to 15-2 and 4-0, extending its winning streak to six games.
This was not the first time Cantu coached the Trojans. In 2011, he stepped in for a suspended Kevin O'Neill and guided the team in a 67-62 loss to Arizona in the conference tournament.
But this was the first time Cantu had full control of the program.
Haden said Wednesday that he was surprised by the interest he received in the job in the short time since firing O'Neill on Monday.
Haden said money would not be an object in attracting a top-tier coach, but he also indicated he would evaluate Cantu.
"We have plenty of time to think about just about everybody," Haden said, "but also be fair with Bob."
With USC students back on campus — and filling most of the seats in the student sections behind one of the baskets — there was an air of expectation and hope in a building that was largely empty during games earlier this month.
And for most of the game the Trojans kept it interesting.
Oregon extended its four-point halftime lead to 10 with less than three minutes left. But Wise made a shot, center Omar Oraby added two free throws and Wise made a three-pointer to pull the Trojans to within 75-72.
After a shot-clock violation by Oregon, Terrell made two free throws to make it a one-point game with 33.1 seconds left.
Oregon guard Dominic Artis made a free throw for a 76-74 lead, giving USC a final possession.
But Fontan's shot from the left wing bounced off the rim. Wise got the rebound, but his shot also bounced off the rim before Dedmon's final miss.
"We had our chances," Cantu said.