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USC basketball: Top-seeded Arizona beats fourth-seeded USC, 67-62, advances to Pac-10 final

March 11, 2011 |  8:22 pm

Usc1_350jpg With its NCAA tournament life on the line, USC was without Coach Kevin O'Neill

But the fourth-seeded Trojans, coached by associate head coach Bob Cantu, who hadn't coached a game since 1998, still gave top-seeded Arizona a close game Friday in a Pacific Life Pac-10 tournament semifinal, falling 67-62 at Staples Center. Cantu was filling in for O'Neill, who was suspended by the university on Friday for his involvement in a verbal altercation with an Arizona booster on Thursday night.

No. 16 Arizona (27-6) advances to Saturday's final against the winner of Friday's other semifinal game between seventh-seeded Oregon and third-seeded Washington. Arizona swept Oregon and split two games with Washington this season.

USC trailed, 50-38, midway through the second half before going on an 11-3 run. Arizona responded with a five unanswered point, four of them on consecutive baskets by star sophomore forward Derrick Williams, the Pac-10 player of the year and a one-time USC recruit. 

Then USC scored six straight points before Arizona forward Jamelle Horne hit a three from the right wing. USC's Jio Fontan answered with a layup, but Williams responded with an amazing, two-handed turn-around alley-oop slam on a pass from Solomon Hill with 1:49 left that put Arizona ahead by six points, 63-57.

Fontan hit a three-point jumper with 48 seconds left to make it a three-point game. Williams was fouled with 20.3 seconds left and made both free throws. USC's Donte Smith missed a three on the other end and junior forward Nikola Vucevic added his final basket of the night, a short floater. 

Vucevic had 16 points and 12 rebounds, his 21st double-double of the season. USC senior guard Marcus Simmons scored a career-high 20 points. 

Williams led Arizona with 20 points while teammate Jesse Perry added 11.

USC shot 24 of 55 from the field; Arizona shot 26 of 52.  

USC (19-14) is considered on the bubble for an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament, but the Trojans' hopes of such a bid are slim. They're best hope was to win the Pac-10 tournament to secure the conference's automatic berth, or, at the very least, defeat Arizona. 

As that is not the case, it seems likely that USC will be headed to the NIT, though a surprise bid to the NCAA tournament is a possibility considering USC has beaten five teams that are rated at 50 or higher in the Ratings Percentage Index. What hurts USC is its six losses to teams outside the RPI top 100.

What also hurt the Trojans was the absence of O'Neill, whose  suspension stems from an altercation he and his wife, Roberta, were involved in Thursday night in a hotel lobby with an Arizona booster.

Some Arizona fans showed signs that mocked O'Neill's situation. One read: "O'Neill: Leave our fans alone." Another just read "Hotel Bar" and had an arrow on it.   

With the loss, O'Neill's suspension is effectively over. Haden did say in his statment that USC has "set forth additional discipline that will remain private." It's unclear what that discipline that might be. When reached by phone, O'Neill said, "We just talked about the Pac-10 tournament." When asked if he was conscerned he might lose his job, O'Neill said, "That was never discussed."

O'Neill is set to meet with Haden and USC senior associate athletic directors Steve Lopes and J.K. McKay when Haden, who is currently on the road, returns to Los Angeles. 

-- Baxter Holmes

Photo: USC forward Nikola Vucevic challenges a driving layup by Arizona forward Derrick Williams in the second half Friday night at Staples Center. Credit: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images