After the firing last month of coach Kevin O'Neill, USC has turned a corner with a higher-scoring brand of play and a renewed focus that resulted in their latest win Sunday night, 71-60 against Washington.
J.T. Terrell scored 18 points and Eric Wise scored 12 as the Trojans (11-13, 6-5) never trailed in winning their third game in a row. Omar Oraby scored nine points, all in the first half, and Dewayne Dedmon had eight points and nine rebounds.
"Tonight I think everybody came out with a tremendous amount of intensity, a lot of energy, and I think it showed," Terrell said. "To be honest, I think we were ready to get a win. I forget how many teams we were tied with in fifth place, but I think everybody wanted this win tonight."
Terrell fell out of the starting rotation under O'Neill but has thrived back in a starting role, along with his teammates. The Trojans have scored 70 or more points in six of their last eight games.
"I would say right now we're really just playing with no leash, really no limits and we're holding ourselves accountable more," Terrell said. "I would say that might be the biggest change."
USC is still in a four-way tie for fifth, but now at 6-5 with California, Stanford and Colorado.
Wise completed a three-point play for a 65-58 lead and Terrell and Jio Fontan each sank a pair of free throws down the stretch for USC. The Trojans made 14 of 15 free throws, with the only miss coming after the outcome was determined by Fontan, who was 5 for 6.
Asked what he would have said if told he would own wins against UCLA and Washington, Cantu said, "Are you kidding me?"
He then got serious and noted that, "It was our night. We were making shots. They've been premier of this league for a long time. If you look at what they've done in the conference tournament, moving guys to the NBA. This is definitely a very, very, very impressive win for our guys."
Scott Suggs scored all 16 of his points in the second half to lead Washington but the Huskies (13-11, 5-6) lost for the sixth time in seven games. Washington made only 4 of 14 free-throw attempts and 1 of 6 in the second half to fall into ninth in the Pac-12.
"We missed free throws, we missed layups and turned the ball over in crucial times when we had cut that lead down . there's the difference," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.
Abdul Gaddy had 12 points and Aziz N'Diaye had 10 points and 12 rebounds. C.J. Wilcox, the Pac-12's fourth-leading scorer, was held scoreless in the second half and finished with eight points.
Suggs made consecutive baskets, including a tough left-handed bank shot with 5:20 remaining, and a 3-pointer to pull Washington to 63-58 with 3:30 left. He scored a long two-pointer with the shot clock about to expire to make it 66-60.
But Shawn Kemp Jr. fouled out on Washington's next possession and the Huskies turned it over on their following two possessions. It's a concerning issue for Washington, which committed 19 turnovers in a buzzer-beating loss Thursday to UCLA.
"You just can't do that," Romar said of the final turnovers. "You can't afford to do that, especially on the road, especially when they're unforced."
USC sat Fontan with four fouls for more than 9 minutes but backup Chass Bryan helped maintain the lead with a pair of 3-pointers, the last after Washington got to 58-51 on a dunk by N'Diaye.
Bryan was a favorite player of O'Neill.
"Chass is a great player," Terrell said. "There's no drop-off from when Jio' s in the game and when Chass is in the game. He plays hard on both ends, knocks down open shots, finds the open man. I think he did a great job of doing that tonight."
Terrell sank a 3-pointer to put USC up by 14 points early in the second half before Washington went on a 12-4 run. Andrew Andrews scored the final four points on a tip-in and a strip of Bryan for a layup.
USC shot 53 percent from the field in the first half and took a 40-29 lead into halftime behind Terrell's 10 points, Oraby's nine and Fontan's six assists.
Washington's sixth and seventh turnovers led to an alley-oop dunk from Byron Wesley to Terrell and a Terrell 3-pointer to push the Trojans' lead to 35-16. Washington called timeout and came back with a 7-2 run but still couldn't contain USC defensively.
Oraby completed a three-point play on a foul by Kemp, and he dunked uncontested off a feed from Fontan late in the first half. The Huskies committed seven turnovers in the first 20 minutes, including traveling and double-dribble violations.
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