USC: DeAndre Jordan
LOS ANGELES -- Nine days ago, at his team's first practice after a disappointing home loss to Oregon that put the Trojans just above .500, USC coach Kevin O'Neill held court with reporters and reasoned that there was no possible way his team would win 18 or 19 games this season.
Now, three games later, it looks as if they're going to do just that.
Thursday, O'Neill's Trojans (16-12, 8-7 in the Pac-10) put together what he termed their most complete game of the season and beat No. 10 Arizona, 65-57, behind 25 points from Nikola Vucevic and 21 points from Jio Fontan and stifling defense on the Wildcats' Derrick Williams and Lamont Jones. With the win, USC moves within two games of the mark O'Neill thought they'd never reach, with at least four games left this season.
It also puts the Trojans once again in the mix -- as a longshot, surely, but still in the mix -- for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, assuming they do win at least two of their three remaining Pac-10 games and get a game or two in the Pac-10 conference tourney. And it sets Arizona quite a bit back in its race for a top seeding in the tourney and gives UCLA a chance to take over the top spot in the conference, or at least share it, with a win over the Wildcats on Saturday.
For his part, O'Neill was focused on what his team did well Thursday -- meaning, most areas of the game, especially in the second half. He also had an eye clearly focused on Saturday's game against Arizona State and next weekend's trip to Washington when speaking about what worked against the Wildcats.
"It's a huge confidence builder," O'Neill said afterward. "We played well tonight, we played hard. We controlled the tempo and we played with poise and confidence down the stretch."
"I hope we can keep this going Saturday."