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USC’s late rally isn’t enough in Pac-12 tournament loss to Arizona State

After spending a season crawling from the wrong end of the bubble, just one more win seemed like enough proof to assure lingering doubters of USC’s rightful place on the NCAA tournament field. A paltry victory in the conference quarterfinals, and USC could be quiet on Selection Sunday.

But there was no quiet for USC in Las Vegas, nor will there be any restful nights ahead. If the committee still needed some convincing, USC paid little 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 that enough bubbles will burst between now and Sunday.

The Trojans did not look at all like a team trying to make a statement on Thursday, as Arizona State outplayed and scrambled them from start to finish, a team desperate to claw their way up the field.

There was no such desperation on the part of USC, at least not until near the end, when the Trojans began firing at will from the depths. They made 3-pointers on three straight possessions, cutting Arizona State’s lead to four points.

But the hole they had dug was too deep. For the first time since 2014, the first season of the Andy Enfield era, USC was eliminated in its opening matchup 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 Thursday in Las Vegas.

(David Becker / Associated Press)

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

Freshman Tre White would lead the way, scoring 16 points. Boogie Ellis and Kobe Johnson each scored 15, and Drew Peterson struggled from the field, making just 2 of 12 shots.

Five nights earlier, these two teams were pushed to the limit, despite Arizona State shooting a paltry 29% from the field, their second-worst shooting performance of the season. USC let them stay anyway, even giving the Sun Devils a chance to send the game into overtime. It failed, and the Trojans breathed a sigh of relief, knowing their tournament hopes were probably safe.

There was no such relief on Thursday. Arizona State flew to an 8-0 lead in the first minute.

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

It wouldn’t be long before USC followed suit, hoping his resume would be enough to earn him an invite.