Jio Fontan and Nikola Vucevic both produced big-time games and USC came away with a closer-than-it-had-to-be two-point win, 62-60, at Washington's Alaska Airlines Arena on Saturday.
Fontan scored 20 points, Vucevic had 19 points and 10 rebounds and senior Alex Stepheson provided a big 11-point, 14-rebound line as the Trojans pulled off the upset, but they almost let the game go away in the final minutes. They led by 14 points with 13 minutes to go in the game and by eight with five minutes to go until Washington had a last-second opportunity to pull it close when USC missed a few free throws.
USC won by not letting any of the Huskies' many scorers get really hot. Sure, Washington had four double-digit scorers, but even leading scorer Isaiah Thomas didn't have his best game as he was clearly disrupted throughout the game by USC defensive stopper Marcus Simmons. UW forwards Justin Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, averaging a combined 28 points on the year, had just 11 Saturday.
The win is a big one for USC, giving the Trojans victories against all but one team -- Oregon -- in the Pac-10 this season. The Trojans had lost a similar game to the Huskies at home in December, so it represents a marked improvement for Kevin O'Neill's squad to record the victory, and it correspondingly gives them quite a bit of momentum heading into Thursday's noon game against Cal at the Staples Center in the second round of the Pac-10 tournament.
So USC (18-13, 10-8 in the Pac-10) is not in position to garner an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournment -- as I see it, at least -- because the 14 losses the Trojans will have if they don't win the conference tourney are just one or two too many for what would be a 20-win team in the conference. But the road to the conference title isn't insurmountable. USC will face Cal Thursday, and then would likely face Arizona on Friday and either UCLA or Washington on Saturday if they kept up winning.
O'Neill's squad has beaten all three of those teams on the season. USC is definitely not a team suited to do well in back-to-back-to-back play, with only seven rotation players, but it's not all that hard to imagine a scenario where the Trojans take care of business Thursday and pull off two minor-to-medium upsets Friday and Saturday.
Only time will tell. It all starts Thursday.