Usually, the late-season dramatics belong to UCLA. After all, the Bruins own a record 11 national championships and their all-time roster boasts some of the game's greatest players.
Southern California's basketball history pales by comparison at a school known for its powerhouse football program. But the Trojans stunned the Bruins for the second year in a row on Saturday, winning 64-63 on Tahj Eaddy's 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds remaining.
It was a bitter pill for the Bruins. They lost the regular-season finale the same way a year ago, when Jonah Mathews hit a 3-pointer with 1 second to go on USC's home court.
This time, it was Eaddy's turn. The transfer from Santa Clara took a pass from Ethan Anderson and was behind the backboard and nearly falling out of bounds on the left baseline when he launched the well-contested 3-pointer — just the fourth made by USC.
“It's funny how things come full circle like that,” Eaddy said. "It was special to be able to do it in a USC uniform against UCLA.”
Eaddy was mobbed by his jumping teammates. The players could be heard celebrating in their lockerroom as empty Pauley Pavilion immediately went quiet.
Eaddy's shot wasn't USC's first option. They wanted to go to standout freshman Evan Mobley for an alley-oop play. They had no timeouts left.
“We're only down two, so we were just trying to extend the play, but they did a good job of guarding that,” Eaddy said. “It was just trying to get a catch before there was a 5-second call. We were getting close.”
Now it's the Trojans whose hopes remain alive for a chance to win their first Pac-12 regular-season title outright since 1960-61. First-place Oregon leads the league by percentage points and would have to lose to Oregon State on Sunday night for USC (21-6, 15-5) to claim the title by one game.
“I wouldn't say it's amazing, but we're really excited,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Of course, we'll be rooting for Oregon State.”
Eaddy was sliding on the court seconds earlier trying to hold onto the ball, but wasn't called for traveling.
Mobley led USC with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Eaddy and Chevez Goodwin added 12 points each, and Drew Peterson had 10 points.
The Bruins (17-8, 13-6) were led by Jaime Jaquez Jr. with 12 points. Jules Bernard and David Singleton added 11 points each. They were without leading scorer Johnny Juzang, who tweaked his right ankle in practice on Friday.
“Johnny is a big piece for us, but regardless there’s still five guys on the court,” Jaquez said. “We made some dumb mistakes here and there that really cost us the game, especially myself.”
USC completed a season sweep of the rival Bruins, having beaten them by 18 points last month.
“It’s extremely hard to take,” Bernard said, “but I feel like this loss was self-imposed. Eaddy made a huge shot at the end of the game, but leading up to it there were a lot of mistakes that let them back in the game.”
Peterson sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers around a free throw by Goodwin to draw the Trojans to 61-60. Cody Riley scored to keep the Bruins ahead 63-60.
Goodwin was 1 of 3 from the free-throw line in the closing seconds. But the Bruins were hardly any better. Jaquez and Bernard both missed the front end of free throws that could have provided some breathing room.
After trailing by 13 in the first half, the Trojans got within two on a three-point play by Goodwin midway through the second half.
The Bruins led 61-53 with 3:50 to play, but got just one field goal over the final 2 minutes.
USC: The Trojans hardly resembled the team that was atop the Pac-12 for a good part of the season, and in the Top 25 at times through the first half. But they stayed persistent and pulled out a quality win on national TV to give themselves a momentum boost going into postseason play.
UCLA: The Bruins finished the regular season with an 11-1 mark at home. Their 18-game home winning streak dating to last season got snapped. They've lost three in a row for the first time this season.
UCLA freshman Mac Etienne started his first game in place of Juzang. He had five points, three rebounds, two assists and three fouls in 20 minutes. He had played in eight games after enrolling during winter quarter. USC started freshman Max Agbonkpolo for the first time. He had four points, three rebounds and two turnovers in 24 minutes.
Both teams play in the Pac-12 Conference tournament quarterfinals in Las Vegas next Thursday.