INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – USC’s dark days have lasted much longer than the Trojans would have liked.
USC’s Eddie Ionescu takes on Oregon’s Eugene Omoruya in the Sweet Sixteen Ducks NCAA tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on the 28th. March 20, 2021 in Indianapolis, Ind. (Getty Images)
The once elite program has descended into mediocrity, with losing seasons mixed with brief NCAA Tournament appearances.
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A game in two weeks at the right time will allow the Trojans to get their act together and make it to the Final Four.
Isaiah White scored 22 points and USC shut down Oregon’s strong offense to reach the Elite Eight for the first time in 20 years with an 82-68 victory in the Western Regional semifinals Sunday night.
We’re making history, and that means a lot to this program, White said. As a team, we’re just super excited and we’ve worked for this, so I’m glad it’s paying off.
Pac-12 After the dark style of the Indians, a lighthearted performance from USC has emerged.
The Trojans (25-7) made short work of the high-flying Ducks with a length on the perimeter and 7-footer Evan Mobley in the middle. Offensively, the sixth seed seeped into the cracks of Oregon’s defense, scoring 57 percent and 10-of-17 from three-point range.
The dominance throughout the season helped USC advance to the Elite Eight for the second time in 60 years, and three Pac-12 teams reached the regional finals for the first time since 2001.
The next chance to play against the undefeated Gonzaga comes Tuesday in the regional final.
We believe we can beat anyone, White said.
Oregon certainly had no answer for the long-arm Trojans.
The seventh-ranked Ducks (21-7) stormed back after USC converted the zone early, but they couldn’t find any holes or release anything until a late rally that ended badly. The Pac-12’s top 3-point shooter (38%) hit 5-of-21 shots from beyond the arc.
Eugene Omoruyi scored 28 points and 10 rebounds and Chris Duarte scored 21 points for the Ducks.
I dropped the guys. I didn’t prepare them in that area, Oregon coach Dana Altman said. I thought so too, but their length and athletic ability gave us the upper hand.
Oregon and USC played a big role in the Pac-12’s unexpected success in Circle City.
The Big West, considered the worst of the major conferences, entered the NCAA Tournament with nine wins and led four teams to the Sweet 16.
With Oregon State and UCLA already on the road, a matchup between the Ducks and Trojans meant a Pac-12 trio in the Round of 16.
Oregon was in a familiar position, having reached that stage in March for the fourth time in five NCAA Tournaments. USC had to bring Nick Young and Taj Gibson back to the 2006-07 team to reach the Sweet 16.
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The Trojans won their only regular season game 72-58 and are off to a great start.
They did the same in the replay, slowing down the speedy Ducks.
Normally free on offense, Oregon had trouble untangling the USC zone between the big defender and Mobley’s shot-blocking paint.
USC’s offense looked more like the Ducks’ than the Ducks’. They made 3-point baskets, hit the rim and used a 17-2 run to take a 14-point lead. The Trojans led 41-26 at halftime.
USC stretched the first 20 minutes into three and a half minutes of the second half before the Ducks finally woke up. An 11-0 run brought USC’s lead back to 69-60, but the rally was over.
Oregon passes the ball, fails on a lob attempt, then Mobley throws a two-handed dunk over Frank Kepnang.
When you’re trying to come back from a deficit like that, you can’t make mistakes like that, Altman said.
Omoruyi played just one season at Oregon after transferring from Rutgers, but it was a special season.
The 6-foot-8 Ontario native has been the Ducks’ most important player this season, scoring, grabbing rebounds and getting his nose dirty on defense.
When he left Sunday’s game in the final minute, his emotions ran high. He hugged Altman as he left the field and other teammates behind the bench.
I’m going to miss this group, he said. They are definitely my favorite band to play with. We’re just family, in and out of court. It’s a heartbreaking moment right now.
Mobley was USC’s fourth top scorer with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting.
His influence went far beyond his vision.
The 6’4 sophomore dominated on both ends, grabbing eight rebounds, handing out six assists and blocking two shots while converting a few more.
He takes what the defense gives him, he trusts his teammates, USC coach Andy Enfield said. If your most talented offensive player is also your most unselfish and willing passer, you can win many of these games.
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