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Thursday, March 1, 2012
Basketball: Washington 80, USC 58

By Pedro Moura

LOS ANGELES -- Almost everything about the USC basketball team's 2011-2012 season has been a full-fledged disappointment, from the Trojans' 6-24 record to the injuries that have ravaged the squad to downright embarrassing attendance numbers at the Galen Center.

Then there's freshman Byron Wesley, who continues to be the lone bright spot in a very dark canvas. The 6-5 guard set another career-high on Thursday in the Trojans' 80-58 loss to Washington, scoring a game-high 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting.

"If there's anything good about our season," USC coach Kevin O'Neill said after Thursday's game, "it's that this guy is really becoming a guy that's going to be hard to reckon with going forward in this league."

Wesley could now finish the season averaging double-digit points per game with strong performances in the regular-season finale against Washington State on Saturday and the Pac-12 tourney.

In his first five games, the Rancho Cucamonga native averaged 4.2 points per game. In his last five, he's putting up 18.4. He's also shooting 51 percent (37 of 72 attempts) in his last five compared to 27 percent (9 of 33) in his first five.

It's not hard to see the improvement.

Said O'Neill: "He is taking advantage of his opportunity, and good players do that."

Forward Garrett Jackson added 14 points for the Trojans. Washington's Terrence Ross led the Huskies with 18 points and forward Darnell Gant, an L.A. native, had 14 and a game-high nine rebounds.

Player of the game: Wesley was clearly USC's top performer; center James Blasczyk did have a career-high 10 points but only added three rebounds in his 33 minutes.

"This guy's becoming a premier player in this league," O'Neill said of Wesley.

Ross shot 8-of-13 from the field on his way to his 18 points. O'Neill said he looked at him as a prototypical NBA shooting guard, as long as he continued to improve his defense.

A sophomore, Ross is rated by most NBA draft prognosticators as a likely first-round selection in June's NBA draft if he chooses to declare.

Stat of the game: Washington (21-8, 14-3 in the Pac-12) out-rebounded the Trojans 49-23, the 16th-straight time USC has been out-rebounded this season.

"We miss so many shots that people get a lot of defensive rebounds," O'Neill said. "They're bigger and stronger than us. We don't have the capability to out-rebound people this year."

The last time the Trojans had more rebounds than an opponent was December 29 on the road against Cal, when they somehow produced 38 rebounds to the Bears' 25.

Quote of the game: "Kevin O'Neill is a testament to good coaching. They have one game left and have lost a lot of tough games and he is still fighting. He has been fighting all season." -- Washington coach Lorenzo Romar

His Huskies locked up a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title on Thursday, but it was interesting that Romar took time to praise O'Neill's coaching abilities in his postgame press conference. The two men have been complementary of each other in their three shared years in the conference.

Final notes: Attendance at the Galen Center was announced at 2,763, the lowest-ever number for a Pac-12 game in the history of the facility...With Senior Day on Saturday, O'Neill said he might start his lone senior -- walk-on guard Eric Strangis -- in the 3 p.m. contest against Washington State. For that game, the first 2,000 fans in attendance will receive a Maurice Jones bobblehead...With a 1-16 Pac-12 record, the Trojans are now locked into the No. 12 seed for the Pac-12 tourney, meaning they will play the No. 5-seeded team at 2:30 p.m. PT next Wednesday.