USC's early turnovers doom NCAA upset bid against Gonzaga

Southern California knew it might take a perfect game to spoil Gonzaga’s perfect season and reach the Final Four.

Less than 20 seconds in, perfect was long gone.

The turnovers came quickly. So too did a big deficit. And just like that, the Trojans’ chances of beating the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed were all but over.

By the end, Gonzaga had claimed an 85-66 win in Tuesday’s West Region championship game, a margin that was largely established during a mistake-filled opening 12 minutes for the Trojans.

Sixth-seeded USC (25-8) committed seven of its 10 turnovers in a rough opening 11-plus minutes, a stretch that helped Gonzaga run its lead out to a 17-point margin. That put the Trojans in the near-impossible position of trying to make up ground against the nation’s highest-scoring offense.

It was a frustrating finish to a thrilling run to the Trojans’ first trip to a regional final since losing to eventual champion Duke in 2001. They were chasing the program’s first Final Four since 1954 and third overall.

The Trojans rolled through the first three games of the tournament, beating Drake, Kansas and Oregon by double-figure margins — highlighted by an 85-51 win against the Jayhawks to reach the Sweet 16. They had found added confidence by using plenty of zone looks along the way after playing man most of the season, allowing opponents to shoot just 32% in the three NCAA wins.

That unit faced a big test slowing a Gonzaga offense averaging 91.8 points — and that was before the Trojans started committing turnovers to send the Bulldogs off and running.

It started with Gonzaga’s Drew Timme stripping Tahj Eaddy just 18 seconds into the game, starting a transition that led to a foul as the Zags jumped to a 7-0 lead that had USC coach Andy Enfield burning a quick timeout.

But the mistakes continued.

Timme struck again minutes later, stripping USC’s Max Agbonkpolo and going the length of the court for a layup and a 17-4 lead. By the time Andrew Nembhard had a layup off yet another turnover, Gonzaga led 29-12 while USC had six turnovers with just five made baskets.

USC got no closer than 13 again, even after committing just three turnovers in the second half.

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