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Ranking USC’s most memorable basketball wins

By Rich Ruben

The USC Trojans’ basketball program doesn’t have the same history of success and instant classic victories and painful losses as the football team. However, the basketball team has had a number of very memorable wins and devastating losses over the years and decades. This is the first of a four-part series which will describe these games. Today will start with the second half of my list of USC’s 12 Most Memorable Wins.

No. 12

The Adam Spanich 1999 win at Oregon

This game might be the most miraculous win by any Trojan team, but it is only ranked at 12 because the game didn’t have other significance except for its unbelievable finish. The Trojans were 15-13 in 1999 under Henry Bibby.

USC was down by 5 with 2.8 seconds left and were inbounding the ball under its offensive basket. Spanich was a very good three point shooter; he made 40.5% over his two years at USC. His 42% led the Pac-10 in 1999. The inbounds pass came to Spanich in the corner, and he made a contested three. With .8 seconds left, the Ducks were set to inbound the ball.  Spanich drifted back to mid court after his shot, and intercepted the long inbounds pass beyond the mid court line. He took one dribble and lofted a shot from half court with only a couple of tenths of a second left and it cleanly went through the net well after the game was over for a 85 – 84. Win. Before the inbound pass to Spanich the tv announcers said it would take a miracle for USC to win, and after the second shot they were screaming that it was the most amazing finish they had ever seen.

1999 was Spanich’s senior year.  His younger teammates Brian Scalabrine, Sam Clancy, Brandon Granville and David Bluthenthal would achieve a lot of success in the next few years, but for one night Spanich was a national star.

No. 11

Trojans complete a three-game sweep over UCLA in 2016

In Andy Enfield’s third year with the Trojans, he finally had a team composed of players he recruited. 2015-2016 was his first winning season as the Trojans finished 21-13. USC went on to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Providence.

In January, USC beat the Bruins 89-75 at home. Jordan MacLaughlin made 5 threes and finished with 27 points. Elijah Stewart sunk 3 quick threes in the first half, and teammates Julian Jacobs, Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright all played well. The rematch in February at Pauley was even more lopsided, the Trojans winning 80-61.

Although years ago it was common for the two teams to play three times, over the last several decades it only happened if the teams met in the conference tournament. In 2016, USC capped the season rivalry with a dominating performance in the quarter finals of the Pac 12 Tournament in Las Vegas, swamping UCLA 95-71. Three wins by a combined 57 points! 

In Vegas, USC jumped out 11-0 and 14-2, and led by 19 at the half. Boatwright was 5-9 from three and led the Trojans with 19 points and MacLaughlin scored 18. One possession summed up the game. Julian Jacobs made a driving basket and the Bruins were called for a flagrant foul. Jacobs made both foul shots. The Trojans were given the the ball in the front court because of the flagrant and hit a three to complete a 7 point possession.

No. 10

2020 overtime win over Stanford

The Cardinal came to Galen in first place in the Pac-12, though it was early in the conference season. With the win, USC took over the conference lead.

The Trojans couldn’t do anything right in the first half, and the Cardinal seemed to make every shot. Stanford led by 20 at the half, and after an early second half free throw the lead reached 21. From that point, the teams seemed to switch jerseys. The crowd in Galen was roaring as the Trojans tried to cut into the lead, but it looked like the Trojans would fall short. They were still trailing by 5 with 15 seconds left and the Cardinal had the ball.  Stanford inbounded the ball under their defensive basket, and the seemingly impossible began. Ethan Anderson got a hand on the inbound pass and it went to Jonah Mathews who missed a contested shot near the basket but Onyeka Okongwu tipped it in. Stanford still led by 3 with the ball.

The Cardinal attempted to inbound the ball again with a long pass to mid court. In the same way that Adam Spanich intercepted a similar pass over 20 years before, Mathews drifted back and intercepted the pass near mid court. He dribbled toward the left side of the key, and passed to Elijah Weaver on the opposite side. The left handed Weaver was moving to his right but was able to get a shot off. Weaver said after the game that he was wide open, but in reality he made an off balance three with a defender all over him. With 7 seconds left, the game was tied and Weaver had a free throw to potentially win the game, but he missed and the game went to overtime.

In the extra five minutes Weaver dominated. He made a very difficult reverse layup around Stanford’s big men, and made two outside shots, one from three. The Trojans finished with a very improbable 82-78 win, overcoming a then conference record 21 point second half deficit.

No. 9

2007 NCAA Tournament win over Kevin Durant and Texas

Texas was a four seed in the tournament and the Trojans were a five in this second round tournament game. The Longhorns and National Player of the Year Durant were favored though USC had played well late in the season. Durant scored 30, but it took him 24 shots to get his points. Tim Floyd switched the defensive assignment against Durant throughout the game with players of different size, quickness and skill sets. Nick Young, Gabe Pruitt, Daniel Hackett and Taj Gibson all took turns. They held Texas to 37% from the field and 25% from three, and coasted to an 87-68 win.

Texas cut the Trojan lead to 4 early in the second half, but by the 11 minute mark the lead was back to 17 and the game was over. Young made 8-13 shots for 22 points, Hackett scored 20, and Gibson had 17 points and 14 rebounds. USC made almost 46% of its shots and 37.5% from three.

USC lost its next game in the Sweet 16 to North Carolina. Late in the game the Heels’ group of big men wore down Gibson, USC’s lone big.

No. 8

USC Beats UCLA in four overtimes in 1985

The Trojans swept the Bruins in 1985, but it wasn’t easy. The teams played six overtime periods in the two games.

In February Stan Morrison’s Trojans beat the Bruins in two overtimes on the road 78-77. The rematch at the Sports Arena before 12,500 took four overtimes before the Trojans completed an 80-78 victory for USC’s first sweep of the Bruins in 25 years. Backup center Charlie Simpson made the winning shot near the rim.

The game was dominated by USC’s pair of forwards. Wayne Carlander scored 38 points and had 13 rebounds and Derrick Dowell had 24 points and 21 boards and became one of six Trojans to ever to post a 20+20. Carlander and Dowell are both in the top ten on USC’s career scoring list. Carlander was the conference Player Of The Year in ‘85. USC finished in second place in the conference at 13-5, but were upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Illinois State. The Reggie Miller led Bruins went to the NIT.

No. 7

Harold Miner scores his 2000th point In 1992 win over Arizona

Miner was the Sports Illustrated National Player Of The Year in 1992. In the last regular season game of the season Miner became only the second conference player ever to score over 2000 points in three seasons, joining Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul -Jabbar). Miner had the best college career of any Trojan by a very wide margin. His 2048 points in only 87 career games are over 300 more than any other Trojan and the next seven and ten of the next twelve played four seasons for Troy. In 1992 teams played 28 regular season games compared to the present 31, and the conference did not have a season ending tournament.

George Raveling’s team beat top ten ranked Arizona 70-69 in the season finale. The game was briefly stopped when Miner made a shot to go over 2000. Miner did not have one of his highlight games, scoring “only” 21 points, but as usual he scored on a variety of shots. He made shots from the perimeter and at the basket. Miner was an amazing leaper and throughout his career dunked over 7 foot opponents and went around them for difficult, twisting shots near the rim. He was listed at 6’5” at USC, but measured just under 6’3” at the NBA combine. He won the NBA slam dunk contest one year, though his career was cut short due to a serious knee injury.

In ‘92 Raveling surrounded Miner with a good solid core group including guards Phil Glenn, Rodney Chatman and Duane Cooper, and forwards Mark Boyd and Yamem Sanders. Freshman forward Lorenzo Orr was injured and missed this game, though he went on to have a very solid Trojan career. The ‘92 Arizona roster included its usual group of top college talent including Chris Mills, Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire.

The Trojans finished the season with a 24-6 record after an upset loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Next week I will list my top-6 most memorable Trojan wins.