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USC bows out with 69-66 loss to Utah

Trojans can't quite overcome a 13-point deficit in the second half in a first-round game of the Pac-12 Conference men's basketball tournament.

March 13, 2013|By Diane Pucin

LAS VEGAS — What better way for USC to end its men's basketball season.

With a mad and crazy scramble in the final eight seconds that included an Eric Wise rebound, a dribbled pass off the hands of Byron Wesley and a basketball that was pounced on, rolled on, and left on the ground. The Trojans couldn't give themselves a chance.

Utah, seeded 10th in the Pac-12 Conference tournament, beat seventh-seeded USC, 69-66, in a first-round game Wednesday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

BOX SCORE: Utah 69, USC 66

The Utes (14-17) will play second-seeded California on Thursday. The Trojans (14-18) will have time to wonder how they could get behind Utah, 60-47, fight back to within a point and still lose.

They can wonder if it would have been different if 7-foot junior Dewayne Dedmon and 7-1 senior James Blasczyk had been available and not suspended for breaking curfew and being out and involved in a pair of brawls in downtown Spokane, Wash., about 2 a.m. Sunday.

Blasczyk's college career is over. He is a redshirt senior with no eligibility left. Dedmon, a redshirt junior, can return to USC if he decides he is not yet ready for the NBA.

Bob Cantu, USC's interim coach, also likely won't be back. When asked if he knew where he'd be next season, Cantu had a short answer.

"No, not really at this point," he said.

While the Trojans earned significant wins at UCLA and over Arizona after Cantu replaced the fired Kevin O'Neill in January, USC was only 7-8 under Cantu.

Seniors Jio Fontan and Wise were crying and nearly inconsolable after the loss. Fontan, who is from Paterson, N.J., and who finished his USC career by shooting three for 14 from the field, wouldn't blame Dedmon and Blasczyk for letting the team down with their actions in Spokane.

"It wasn't just about today," Fontan said. "We should have done a better job all season up until this point," he said.

Fontan also said he hoped Athletic Director Pat Haden would give all the Trojans who will be back next season a chance to talk to him about who will eventually be the coach.

"I hope they all hear about the options," Fontan said.

One of those players will likely be 7-2 junior Omar Oraby, USC's third 7-footer.

Without Dedmon and Blasczyk available, Oraby played a season-high 35 minutes and had team highs in points (18), rebounds (10), and blocked shots (two).

After Utah took its biggest lead, 60-47, with 8 minutes 40 seconds left, the Trojans began their frantic comeback with a layup from Wesley. Wise hit a three-pointer to pull USC within 60-59 and after Utah's Jarred DuBois (who played at Westchester High and Loyola Marymount) gave the Utes a 62-59 lead, Oraby, with the assist from Wise, had a monster dunk to make it 62-61 Utah.

But DuBois hit a three-pointer with 2:40 left to give the Utes a four-point lead and never again were the Trojans closer than three points.

Wise, who finished with nine points on four-for-11 shooting, said his tears were because he couldn't do enough, score enough, fight enough.

"I couldn't make us win," he said.

In his brief summation of how the Trojans could get so far behind Utah, Cantu was honest in a way that might not help him keep his job.

"They caught us off guard switching from a zone defense to man to man," Cantu said.

Cantu also said that whatever happens as far as the USC coaching position, he considers himself lucky.

"For me it's been a great experience," he said. "I'm fortunate to be at 'SC 12 years, to have had a chance to be a head coach in this league. I'm thankful to our guys who I thought responded and worked hard. For me, personally, I'm thankful the administration gave me the opportunity."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

Twitter: @mepucin

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