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USC basketball: With Bay Area sweep, Trojans aim to be on bubble for postseason bid

USC swept the Bay Area schools this past weekend, beating both California and Stanford.

Raise your hand if you saw that coming. Anyone? (Bueller?... Bueller?... Bueller?

Consider: 

- USC hadn't beaten back-to-back road teams since beating the Oregon schools on Jan. 24 and Jan. 26 in 2008 under then-coach Tim Floyd

- USC hadn't swept the Bay Area schools since 1992.

- USC had lost three straight and 15 of its last 18 at California's Haas Pavlion entering Thursday's game, which it won, 78-75. 

- USC had lost eight straight games at Stanford's Maples Pavilion entering Saturday's game, which it won, 69-53.

But despite all that, and the fact that USC had lost six of nine entering Thursday's game against California, the Trojans arrived back in Los Angeles on Sunday with a new goal that seems somewhat more realistic now:

The NCAA tournament. 

OK, yes, that's every team's goal, but USC Coach Kevin O'Neill had quietly admitted after losing at home Feb. 12 to Oregon that the Trojans weren't an NCAA tournament team. NIT, maybe. NCAA, no. 

USC is 15-12 overall and 7-7 in Pacific 10 Conference play with four regular season games left -- two at home this week against the Arizona schools and two next week at the Washington schools.

The thinking goes, if USC can win three of four, it's record would be 18-13, 10-8 heading into the Pacific 10 Conference tournament, which will be played at Staples Center from March 9-12.

And since USC is currently in a tie for fourth place in the Pac-10 standings with Oregon, it has a decent shot to earn a first-round bye in that tournament. (The Pac-10's top six teams all earn first-round byes.)

USC would then, just to be safe, need perhaps two wins in the conference tournament to put the team at 20 wins. (If USC had a first-round bye and won two games, it would be in the conference title game.)

If you factor in USC's non-conference ranked wins against Texas and at Tennessee, plus its win against UCLA and a likely win against either Arizona, which is now a top-10 team, or Washington, the team picked to win the Pac-10 in the preseason, 20 wins should place USC "on the bubble" for getting in as an at-large team. (If USC wins the conference tournament, it will be guaranteed a spot.) 

USC isn't currently projected to make the NCAA tournament, but the scenarios that could change that are already being played out in the players' minds.

Senior guard Donte Smith thinks the Trojans need to win three out of four plus a couple games in the conference tournament. Doing that would be enough, he said. 

"Yeah, because our the strength of our schedule this year, you could say that," Smith said Monday.

Freshman guard Maurice Jones said USC just needs to win its next four games. 

"We’ll be 19-12," Jones said. "Then win one or two games, we should be in or on the bubble or at least be in the (discussion)."

Junior guard Jio Fontan agrees with Jones: Four more years, er, wins. 

"God willing, we win all four, we're right there in the picture if we can win one or two in the conference tournament," Fontan said. 

At this point for USC, which right now is one win away from reaching last season's total, that's not bad considering the program is still recovering from heavy sanctions -- (and is doing well).

--Baxter Holmes

 
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