Bob Cantu slid over a couple of seats on the USC bench for Thursday night's Pac-12 game against Oregon. The end result wasn't much different than most of the Trojans' games this season. USC battled back from a 10-point deficit in the final minutes, but came up just short in a 76-74 loss to No. 21 Oregon.
USC was coming off a victory over Utah last week, but it marked the final game for coach Kevin O'Neill, who was fired on Monday. Cantu, in his 12th season as an assistant with the program, came up short in his second try as the team's interim coach. Cantu served as the team's interim coach for one game in 2011 when O'Neill was suspended. USC lost that game to Arizona in a Pac-10 tournament semifinals.
"It's been a tough week," Cantu said. "I'm really proud how we competed and fought. We kept pushing, got back in the game and had our chances. We did a decent job of pushing the ball up the floor and we attacked. ... But we weren't consistent enough to get over the hump. I'm proud of the guys and their effort."
The Trojans (7-11, 2-3 Pac-12) were down 75-67 with 2:11 remaining. J.J. Terrell, who had 22 points, made two free throws to cut Oregon's lead to 75-74 with 33.1 seconds left. Jio Fontan of USC missed a 3-pointer and his teammates missed a couple of putbacks with Oregon's Arsalan Kazemi finally grabbing the rebound.
"It was a tough loss," Terrell said. "It's never a good feeling, especially when you have several opportunities at the end. We played a good game against a great Oregon team. We had a few mistakes that hurt us. We just really wanted to win. Everybody was really hungry. There was a lot of emotions this week, not knowing that (replacing O'Neill) was going to happen. At the end of the day, we have a lot of season left and a lot to accomplish."
The Ducks shot 42.9 percent (27 for 63) from the field.
Eric Wise had 17 points for the Trojans.
The Ducks were just happy to get out of the arena with a victory, their sixth straight.
"Well, we didn't mean to do that," Oregon coach Dana Altman said of the wild finish. "I was very disappointed in our defense. Offensively, obviously we didn't get the shots we wanted, but we had a 10-point lead there ... and they scored nine very easy points. But we found a way to win. Sometimes you've got to do that. I didn't think we were sharp all night."
Oregon got its usual balanced scoring, as five players finished in double figures: Damyean Dotson with 16 points. E.J. Singler 14 and Carlos Emory, Tony Woods and Dominic Artis each had 10.
The Ducks (15-2, 4-0) opened with four straight conference wins for the first time in 39 years when they started 4-0 in the Pac-8.
"You've got to find a way in some games," Altman said. "We haven't been sharp now the last two games which is a big concern, but we did find a way to win, which is very important on the road. ... Sometimes you've just got to be lucky."
USC led for just 30 seconds of the first half, but got in position to take the lead early in the second half when Terrell hit a 3-pointer from the left baseline, was fouled, then made his free throw to complete the four-point play and cut Oregon's lead to 45-44. In the ensuing minutes, the Trojans had several chances to tie the game or go ahead, but missed shots and turned the ball over.
The Trojans got a boost early in the second half from 7-footer Dewayne Dedmon, who scored seven points in the opening 4 minutes of the second half after going scoreless in the first half.
Neither team shot well in the first half, Oregon making 12 of 29 field goals (41 percent), slightly better than USC's 11 for 28 (39 percent). But the Trojans got a strong first half from Terrell, who rejoined the starting lineup last week.