LOS ANGELES -- Nikola Vucevic almost single-handedly led the Trojans to victory Wednesday against Washington.
Almost. But, as is often the case, a host of effective players proved better than one ultra-effective player, and the balanced and deep Huskies managed to top the Trojans, 73-67, in an exciting overtime game Wednesday in the teams' Pac-10 opener at the Galen Center.
USC (8-5, 0-1 in the Pac-10) led early and led late behind a career-high 28 points and 14 rebounds from Vucevic, only to squander both leads by falling victim to Washington's guard-heavy attack in the final minutes and extra period.
"We had our chances," USC coach Kevin O'Neill said. "We just didn't play particularly well.
"We didn't get it done on the offensive end like we needed."
Vucevic and Co. had a chance to win it in regulation when, with the score tied 58-58, Washington's Isaiah Thomas missed a contested 3-pointer with seven seconds left. But USC guard Jio Fontan, playing in only his fourth game as a Trojan, attempted to take the ball up the court for a last-second heave instead of calling a timeout and turned it over before getting up a shot.
O'Neill said it was his decision -- not Fontan's -- to not call a timeout. In overtime, USC collapsed, allowing the Huskies to surge to an 18-point period and take the game. Four Trojans played at least 40 minutes, but mistakes hurt them in the final five minutes.
"You can't win if you don't do the little things down the stretch," O'Neill said.
Washington (9-3, 1-0) rebounded from starting the game in a 16-4 hole and took a 28-26 lead into the halftime break. Even with three Huskies fouling out and two more gathering four fouls,Washington managed to keep its composure and shoot just well enough -- 40 percent, exactly -- to beat the Trojans. Senior forwards Matt Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday combined to score 30 points on 18 shots.
Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar was very complimentary of USC's team.
"They really played a tough physical game and made very few mistakes," Romar said. "They give you nothing."
Player of the game: Vucevic played a bigger role in USC's success Wednesday than any player has in any one of the Trojans' games this season. Not one other Trojan had a good game -- Alex Stepheson's eight points and eight rebounds in 43 minutes is the only thing that comes close -- and Vucevic appeared to be USC's only offensive option on a number of late possessions.
He had seven of the final 10 points in regulation to force overtime, including a huge 3-pointer on a broken play with 1:28 to go. Afterward, O'Neill lamented what he said was a "wasted" game from Vucevic.
"Nik had a great performance," O'Neill said. "Any time that people focus on one player -- their entire defense was based on guarding Nik, that's what they were doing -- and to have him have 28 points and 14 rebounds, that says a lot about him."
Vucevic said Washington was essentially denying him the ball in the post for much of the first half. When he realized that, he said, he started trending out toward the perimeter. That formula hasn't worked so well this season, but it worked to near-perfection Wednesday.
"Vucevic is an absolute matchup nightmare," Romar said. "He is a really good player, an NBA player if I've ever seen one."
Stat of the game: Washington's bench had 29 points; USC's had seven.
As expected, the Huskies used their depth to their advantage, playing nine players to the Trojans' seven and getting double figures in points from five players. USC had only two.
In particular, Washington freshman guard Terrence Ross was outstanding, with 18 points on 4-for-8 shooting from on 3-pointers in 26 minutes. But guard Venoy Overton added 11 points and two clutch drives to the basket late in the game that O'Neill said were big.
"They have more depth than we do, obviously," O'Neill said.
Quote of the game: "It's big britches time against a good team. When you're playing good teams you gotta step up and do the things that you're capable of doing." -- O'Neill.
Washington State looms Friday at 3 p.m. The Cougars were the best team in the conference in preseason play and promise to be a serious challenge for the Trojans, who simply cannot afford to lose both home games against the Washington schools and maintain serious at-large hopes.
It's as close to a must-win game for USC as is possible in December.
Notes: In attendance at the Galen Center were USC athletic director Pat Haden, linebackers coach Joe Barry and football players De'Von Flournoy, Marshall Jones and Torin Harris, sporting a sling on his right shoulder after undergoing surgery last week. ...Vucevic's 14 made free throws were the second-most without a miss in USC history, behind John Block's 21-for-21 game in 1966. ... Before Wednesday, USC's last overtime game at home had been on March 6, 2008 against California.
Vucevic talked after the game about his performance, how Washington chose to defend him and how USC can bounce back against Washington State: