LOS ANGELES — Flirtations with disaster and self-destruction never proved insurmountable as long there always was a next game to play. The mental mistakes, scoring droughts and immaturity were forgivable because there still was a way to redeem the season.
USC, however, finally ran out of chances Saturday. The Trojans' next game is in November, and they missed their shot at redemption the way they did most of the other shots they took.
Sure, they put together a late rally that was ignited as much by fear and anger as enthusiasm. But that got them only close enough to glimpse at a berth in the NCAA Tournament one more time before Oregon slammed the door on their season with a 74-66 victory in the Pac-10 Tournament championship game in front of 17,485 at Staples Center.
"This loss really hurts," said Trojans guard Derrick Craven, whose team's only hope to make the field of 65 was to win Saturday and earn the Pac-10's automatic bid. "There is no consolation for us just making the conference finals. We wanted to make a statement."
"This is a learning lesson with this team," said USC coach Henry Bibby, whose Trojans lost in the Pac-10 title game for the second consecutive season.
Perhaps USC will learn a consistent way to finish off a strong team such as Oregon (23-9), which trailed by seven points late in the first half but responded with a strong surge even though the Ducks had little to gain with the victory.
"We came down here to get three wins and we got it," Ducks forward Robert Johnson said. "This was our only goal."
Fifth-seeded Oregon, which entered the tournament on the bubble but locked up a spot in the NCAA bracket with victories over Arizona State and UCLA, pulled out to a 17-point lead with 11:49 remaining on the shooting of point guard Luke Ridnour (18 points) and forward Luke Jackson (17 points).