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Arizona Eliminates USC Despite Simmons' Career Game

Shotgun Spratling |
March 11, 2011 | 9:26 p.m. PST

Associate Sports Editor

Marcus Simmons had a career-high 20 points. (Shotgun Spratling)
Marcus Simmons had a career-high 20 points. (Shotgun Spratling)
Even without their head coach, the USC Trojans pushed the No. 16 Arizona Wildcats to the brink before ultimately falling just short of a win in the Pac-10 Tournament semifinals.

Marcus Simmons scored a career-high 20 points, including three 3-pointers, but the Trojans fell 67-62 as they couldn't quite catch Arizona in the second half.

The day started ominously for USC as head coach Kevin O'Neill got into an altercation at a downtown Los Angeles hotel early Friday morning. O'Neill was subsequently suspended by USC for the remainder of the tournament.

Assistant Bob Cantu, who had previously never coached a Division I basketball game, said he was informed he would be taking over the reins three hours before the game began. But he said the Trojans did very little different in preparation for Arizona.

"Obviously, [O'Neill] wasn't standing there calling the plays," Cantu said. "But we went through everything as if he was there. I think the guys played remarkably well and they played hard."

Cantu said he did draw up a couple of different plays that he learned from previous USC head coaches Tim Floyd and Henry Bibby.

"I felt that if we ran something different, they wouldn't expect it," he said. "So we threw a couple extra things in there and a couple worked and a couple didn't."

However, Cantu could not draw up anything to stop Pac-10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams. Williams had 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting. He also was big on the boards, where Arizona hurt the Trojans. Williams had six rebounds, but it was the 13 offensive rebounds USC allowed that may have been the deciding factor in the game.

Maurice Jones shoots a jumper against Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament semifinals.
Maurice Jones shoots a jumper against Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament semifinals.
"They got a lot of second chance opportunities that didn't lead to two-point baskets, but they led to three-point baskets," point guard Jio Fontan said.


By the Numbers

  • 21 - Nikola Vucevic collected his 21st double-double of the season, posting 16 points and 12 rebounds. His 21 double-doubles are fifth best in the nation.
  • 20 - Marcus Simmons set a career-high with 20 points, making eight of his 11 shots from the field.
  • 3 from 3 - Three of Simmons' field goals were 3-pointers -- also a career high.
  • 4-10 - The Trojans fell to 4-10 when they lose the rebounding battle. Washington had a 32-30 advantage, including 13 on the offensive end.
  • 49.1 - USC shot 54.5 percent in the first half and 49.1 percent from the field for the game. It was the best the Trojans have shot in a loss this season.
  • 36-24 - Despite Arizona's rebounding edge, USC dominated in the paint, outscoring the Wildcats 36-24.
  • #23 - Harold Miner was presented with his #23 jersey during halftime. USC's all-time leading scorer was honored as one of 10 inductees into the Pac-10 Hall of Fame.
  • - In the two Pac-10 Tournament games, freshman reserve Garrett Jackson played five total minutes. He played only one minute Friday night.
  • 7 & 5 - There were several calls that garnered the consternation of the USC fans, particularly in the second half. Most of the questionable calls were made by referee Tony Padilla. In part because of the calls Padilla made, Arizona shot seven more free throws than the Trojans and USC was whistled for five more personal fouls.

Top Player: Marcus Simmons.

Marcus Simmons shoots a 3-pointer from the left corner against Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament semifinals. (Shotgun Spratling)
Marcus Simmons shoots a 3-pointer from the left corner against Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament semifinals. (Shotgun Spratling)

Simmons was fired up. The normally reserved senior guard showed a lot of emotion, urging the Los Angeles crowd to get loud and yelling in the direction of his defensive assignment, Lamont Jones, while waiting in his defensive stance early in the game.

He was also on fire. With his defender often sagging down low to help out on Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic, Simmons had open looks. He took advantage, knocking down shots from the outside and scoring around the basket.

"I know Marcus can shoot and he did it tonight," senior guard Donte Smith said. "I just told him to shoot it with confidence and that's what he did."

Simmons led the Trojans with 11 points in the first half, keeping them close to Arizona. In the second half, he made four of his five shots, including his only 3-pointer. He finished with a career-high 20 points and made a career-high three 3-pointers. Not bad for a defensive stopper.

Unsung Hero: Bob Cantu.

Cantu was thrown into an unenviable position for his first ever Division I came as a head coach. However, he handled the situation seamlessly. USC played hard on both ends of the court and battled throughout the game. No one can point to Cantu as a potential reason the Trojans lost the game.

After the game, all the players were extremely complimentary of the job Cantu did, especially considering the short three-hour pre-game notice.

"Step It Up:" Kevin O'Neill.

It doesn't really matter what did or didn't happen Thursday night/Friday morning, O'Neill let his team down by not being on the bench for the Trojans. His actions, whatever exactly they may have been, led to a suspension and kept him from being available for one of the most important games of the season.

Donte Smith makes a finger roll against Arizona in USC's Pac-10 Tournament semifinal loss. (Shotgun Spratling)
Donte Smith makes a finger roll against Arizona in USC's Pac-10 Tournament semifinal loss. (Shotgun Spratling)

Where They Stand:

With a 19-14 record, USC is sitting firmly on the wait-and-see-what-happens bubble. The Trojans will now have to bite their nails until Sunday's NCAA Tournament Selection Show. The Trojans have some really great wins -- a blowout of No. 10 Texas, an upset of No. 16 Arizona, and road victories at Tennessee and Washington. But they also have some really bad losses -- Oregon (twice), Oregon State, Rider and Bradley.

Cantu tried to make the case for the Trojans after the game.

"My phlosophy is when you're selecting 68 teams, you're trying to find the best 68 to compete for a national title," Cantu said. "If you saw us play throughout the season, you'd have to say we're one of those teams [...] because we've shown we can beat good teams." 

We'll have to wait until Sunday to find out what will happen. If the Trojans don't get invited to the NCAA Tournament, they would almost certainly receive an offer from the NIT.

To reach Shotgun Spratling, click here, or follow him on Twitter @BlueWorkhorse.

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