Power shift goes unnoticed in rivalry

first_imgIt sounds like a mad lib.The upstart (adjective) USC men’s basketball team (typically inferior proper noun) walloped the miserable (depressing adjective) UCLA men’s basketball team (proper noun synonymous with Goliath) Saturday at Pauley Pavilion (above noun’s preferred location) by 21 (ridiculously large number) points.Except this isn’t a mad lib. This is real. Yet, you wouldn’t know it.Lost among the ogre amount of commotion and noise made by the USC football program last week was a landmark victory by the university scapegoats ­— the basketball team.For a program that has been beaten to a pulp by the athletic department and national media for a scandal that the new coach and no current players were a part of, it’s only fair that the team gets some positive attention.That moment came Saturday night, when the Trojans took down the basketball powerhouse across town that has won three out of the last four Pac-10 regular-season championships — at their palace. That’s not all: The 67-46 victory was the largest margin of victory for the USC basketball team over UCLA since Winston Churchill resigned as prime minister.Any other year, this would be the front page story of the sports section of the Los Angeles Times and Daily Trojan.This would get national attention as a monumental upset and tremendous, resume-boosting victory for the Trojans. There would be talk about USC’s RPI and a spot on the “bubble” during bracketology conversations. Heck, some people might be calling for them to be this year’s surprise Sweet 16 or Elite 8 team.But this isn’t any other year. Two years after the departure of the player the entire athletic department bowed-down to, O.J. Mayo’s presence is still felt. Because of violations in his name, the school suspended the basketball team from any postseason play this year.This means that any chance USC had of defending its Pac-10 tournament title, becoming this year’s “Cinderella team” and providing a memorable lasting experience for seniors who have more than earned it — senior guards Dwight Lewis and Mike Gerrity among them — is thrown out the window because of actions of which they had no part. In fact, the main characters in this sad story face no repercussions and are making millions in the NBA; see Tim Floyd and Mayo. For a team that was predicted to finish last in the Pac-10, it did not need to be kicked while it was down.So, with no postseason to play for, there are two main goals for this team to aspire to: beat UCLA and win the Pac-10 regular-season championship. Even though UCLA is having a major down year, beating the Bruins is still considered a big feat in USC basketball — especially when that victory comes at Pauley Pavilion.Which is why the Trojans’ victory over UCLA should have made more than a blip on the radar.Except, out walked Pete Carroll, in walked Lane Kiffin, and all hell broke loose at Heritage Hall last week, keeping us from one of the best feel-good stories this year.You don’t want to call the USC men’s basketball program a feel-good story? Sure, they committed some major sins in the past and are paying for them now. Sure they just beat a very mediocre, sub .500 team, which is hardly a cause for celebration.These, however, are the reasons to invest in the basketball team. They didn’t just beat a .500 team, they beat UCLA in a defeat that didn’t sit well with the Westwood school’s head coach.“I’m embarrassed for our team,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said after the game. “I feel embarrassed for the program, for the former players and coaches. That’s all you can say, it was embarrassing.”If the Trojans could get a quote like this from every opposing head coach, that would be a victory in and of itself. To get it from UCLA’s head coach, that’s the ultimate compliment.Also, with the postseason bans in place, the team has no postseason to play for and could easily have rolled over and quit on the team, their coach and each other. Only, they didn’t.Even though their season ends March 6, they are playing with the heart and soul of a team fighting for a championship. Nobody would blame them if they lost the rest of their games. Some people might even expect that.No, this team is playing for the chance to do something that has never been done in USC men’s basketball history — win a Pac-10 regular-season championship.There was a groundbreaking victory for the USC men’s basketball team last Saturday, and there will be some inspiring basketball played at the Galen Center this week.Too bad nobody is paying any attention.“Spittin’ Sports” runs Wednesday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Kenny at [email protected]last_img

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