USC’s late rally not enough in Pac-12 championship loss to Arizona State

After a season of clawing their way back from the wrong side of the bubble, it seemed like just one more win would be proof enough to ensure USC’s rightful place in the NCAA tournament field. One narrow win in the conference quarterfinals, and USC could rest easy on Selection Sunday.

But there was no peace to be found for USC in Las Vegas, and there would be no rest nights. If the committee still needed any convincing, USC didn’t pay much attention in a 77-72 loss to Arizona State.

Desmond Cambridge Jr. scored 27 points, including six 3-pointers, to lead the Sun Devils.

Now USC will have to sit back and wait, fingers crossed, for enough bubbles to pop between now and Sunday.

The Trojans looked nothing like a team looking to make a statement Thursday, as they were outplayed and dominated from start to finish by Arizona State, a team desperate to win its way on the field.

There was no such desperation from USC, at least not until the end when the Trojans started shooting at will from deep. They made three points on three consecutive possessions, cutting Arizona State’s lead to four points.

But the hole they dug was too deep. Since 2014, the first season of the Andy Enfield era, USC was eliminated in the opening game of the Pac-12 tournament.

USC forward Kobe Johnson (0) looks to pass the ball as Arizona State forward Jamiya Neal defends during the first half of the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals in Las Vegas on Thursday.

(David Becker/Associated Press)

This time, he had the chops to make a deeper run. But his offense ran out of gas and didn’t find his reserves until it was too late.

Freshman Tre White led the way, scoring 16 points. Boogie Ellis and Kobe Johnson each had 15, and Drew Peterson struggled from the field, making just two of 12 shots.

Five nights earlier, these two teams went down to the wire, despite Arizona State shooting a measly 29% from the field, its second-worst shooting performance of the season. USC hung on, though, even giving the Sun Devils a shot to send the game into overtime. He failed, and the Trojans breathed a sigh of relief, knowing their championship hopes were probably safe.

No such relief was found on Thursday. Arizona State jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first minute.

Nothing got any easier for USC from there, as the Trojans looked like a team that had run out of gas. They shot a miserable 26% in the first half, with multiple scoreless stretches of five minutes or more. At one point, they turned the ball over on four straight possessions, prompting Enfield to throw his hands on the sidelines.

It wouldn’t be long before USC did the same, hoping his resume would be enough to earn an invitation.

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