BY Bob Sherwin 05:06PM 03/11/2011

SPNW at Pac-10 fest: Arizona reaches final

USC’s Kevin O’Neill suspended for altercation; Bone, Howland make uncharacteristic coaching mistakes.

Washington State's Klay Thompson's epic 43-point game against the Huskies Thursday goes into the record books / SSC Photo

LOS ANGELES – Arizona is ready and waiting.

The Wildcats, on a mission to win the regular-season and Pac-10 tournament titles, held off USC in the early game, 67-62.

Derrick Williams, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, had 20 points for the Wildcats (27-6). Jesse Perry added 11.

The Cats now wait for the winner of the late-night game, Washington or Oregon. That game will be Saturday at 3 p.m.

“This means a lot,” Arizona Coach Sean Miller said. “We came here trying to separate out regular-season championship and to pursue the conference tournament championship. These guys all realize the you lose, you go home.”

What provided extra motivation for the Wildcats was their last trip to Los Angeles. They were swept by both USC (65-57) and UCLA (71-49).

“I thought our last experience when we came to Los Angeles, losing to both USC and UCLA, we came here this week trying to get better,” Miller said. “That’s why I think this was the best win of the season.’

BONE-HEADED MOVES: In a year of multiple player suspensions in the Pac-10 this season, it just seems fitting that the next one to go would be a coach.

Kevin O’Neill, head coach the USC Trojans, was banned from the sidelines by USC athletic director Pat Haden for the rest of the Pac-10 Tournament, including tonight’s critical matchup with No. 1 seed Arizona. O’Neill reportedly got into a heated argument with Arizona supporters at his hotel bar late Thursday night.

Assistant Coach Bob Cantu will take over tonight.

“We have met with various parties who have knowledge of the incident. Based on the information we have gathered, I am immediately suspending Coach O’Neill for the balance of the Pac-10 Conference Tournament,” Haden said in a statement. “We also have set forth additional discipline that will remain private.

“Coach O’Neill was remorseful and apologetic and accepted responsibility for his actions. He understood that his actions were unacceptable and that they reflect poorly on him, his team and USC. We hold our coaches to very high standards, as they are role models to the student-athletes they lead.”

O’Neill, who coached one season at Arizona (2007-08), and his wife reportedly got into an argument with Wildcat supporters. Drinking and yelling were involved along with a punch reportedly thrown by his wife.

“I want to apologize to my team, our university and our fans for my involvement last night in an incident with a fan,” O’Neill said in a statement. “I understand my behavior as the leader of our team was unacceptable. I used poor judgment and put myself, my team and USC in a bad light. I regret that I have let them down.”

It hasn’t been a good tournament for coaches, as Washington State Ken Bone and UCLA’s Ben Howland both were involved in rare on-court infractions at critical and highly visible times Thursday night.

Bone, otherwise, has had a good year. He’s admired for suspending his two best players, Klay Thompson and Reggie Moore, without concern for his team’s success. He engineered victories over Washington (twice), Baylor, nearly UCLA – losing 58-54 in OT – and nearly UW again – losing in the Pac-10 tournament, 89-87 Thursday.

Yet if it’s true that people are remembered for the last thing they do, then it’s his bone-headed play in the final seconds of the loss to the Huskies that will live on into the off-season.

After Thompson slipped in a rebound putback to make it a one-point deficit, 88-87, with four-tenths of a second left, Bone called a timeout he didn’t have. The referees quickly called a technical on him and Bone mildly protested. He knew he was out but tried to argue that he wasn’t really calling for one. A futile attempt.

“They gave me a technical foul for calling a timeout, because apparently you can’t call more than five timeouts in a game,” said Bone, still with a sense of humor after a bitter loss. “I caught myself, but I understand why the ref called me on it. It was the right call.”

It was more embarrassing than being a critical factor in the loss. With four-tenths of a second left, the Cougars only had time for a tip-in. UW coach Lorenzo Romar wasn’t going to have his players throw the ball in-bounds anywhere near the WSU basket. It was tossed to mid-court and the buzzer sounded almost as soon as it was touched. A timeout wouldn’t have changed anything.

Bone, a former assistant at UW under Romar, thought he knew his former mentor’s coaching patterns. But he admitted Romar was surprise in those final seconds.

The Huskies had a three-point lead, 88-85, with nine seconds left and WSU ball. During a timeout, Romar had directed his players to foul, as long as the player wasn’t shooting. The idea was that it would put the Cougars at the line – in a 1-and-1 situation – so the most they could make would be two points. And the Huskies would get possession if the shots went in.

Reggie Moore took the ball up court and Scott Suggs fouled him with 2.4 seconds left.

“Romar is known not to foul,” Bone said, “but it was a good move on his part. It was good strategy.”

Moore added, “I was fouled five feet outside the three-point line. I tried to get out of it, but couldn’t.”

Moore missed his first attempt but Thompson rebounded and put it in for a one-point game. But it was too late, four-tenths of a second left. The foul essentially was the deciding factor.

There’s also howling over Howland. While there is an argument that the site of the tournament, at the Staples Center in downtown L.A., favors UCLA and USC, those teams also have the occasional disadvantage of more intense media scrutiny.

Howland is feeling it today after the Bruins’ lackluster performance in a 76-59 first-round lost to No. 7 seed Oregon.

Forward Tyler Honeycutt said his teammates weren’t focused and added that the Ducks “were more prepared than we were. They had the mentality that they didn’t have anything to lose. We came in here with a ‘too cool’ of an attitude.”

The focal point of the media criticism is a second-half technical foul called on the Bruins bench for too many players on the court. That blunder falls on Howland’s shoulders.

“I’m not a math major but when I saw five guys out there and one (Reeves Nelson) walking in front of our bench, I totaled that up to six,” Oregon Coach Dana Altman said. “It’s one of those things that happens sometimes, not communicating.”

It was hard for anyone to remember a Division I team receiving such a technical. Altman was asked when he last saw that and said, “back when I was coaching junior-college ball, and that would have been in the 80s. It hasn’t happened for a while.”

Howland was asked if ever happened to one of his teams before and said, “I don’t think so, no.”

The Bruins still will earn an NCAA bid, although not the seed nor likely the region they would like. Howland understands that he and his players grossly underachieved so he had a closed-door meeting with the group after the game.

“You have to go back and look at yourself first, not point at anybody else but one’s self,” Howland said. “To me, that is important when you come off a really disappointing effort and lose the way we had.”

KLAY AND WALLY SHOWS: Cougar junior guard Klay Thompson put on an epic and memorable performance Thursday against the Huskies, 43 points in 37 minutes. He made 15 of 29 field-goal attempts, including 8 of 14 behind the three-point line.

“I’m disappointed we lost but I am very proud of Klay,” Bone said. “But it’s always disappointing to lose if a player scored five or 50.”

Husky guard Isaiah Thomas added, “Great player. Some shots he hit I was like, ‘man, is that Kobe?’ It felt like we had a hand up and he was hitting them from everywhere. When a player can hit shots like that and get on a roll, if feels like the basket’s like the ocean.”

Thompson’s effort was reminiscent of another 43-point effort against the Huskies, Wally Szczerbiak in the opening round of the 1999 NCAA Tournament. The Miami of Ohio forward also pumped in 43 points on March 12, 1999, also tied by Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison for the second points against a UW team. USC’s John Block holds the record of 45 on Feb. 11, 1966.

Szczerbiak scored 43 of his team’s 59 points. The Huskies would lose that game, 59-58. UW center Todd MacCulloch, who will be recognize in the Pac-10’s Hall of Honor here Saturday, remembers that performance.

“We wanted to shut off everyone else and let Wally score his 30, not 43,” he said. “We took a lot of criticism but a very good Utah team shut him off in the next game and the bench stepped up to beat Utah.”

Interestingly enough, of the top 13 highest-scoring games by an opposing player, the Huskies would win four on them – two against Washington State. One was Thursday and the other was March 12, 1983 when WSU’s Craig Ehlo had 37 against the Huskies in a 78-76 win. The other two UW wins were Feb. 27, 1960 when UCLA’s John Green had 38 and March 12, 2005 when Arizona’s Salim Stoudamire had 37.

IT FOR MVP: In the 13 years of the Pac-10 Tournament, one player has won the Most Outstanding Player award twice, Arizona’s Sean Elliott (1988, ’89). UW’s Thomas, based on his initially effort against the Cougars, has a chance at making it two. He won the award a year ago when the Huskies won the tournament.

“I would like to sit down with all of you (reporters) and show you the film and point out some of the things he did without scoring that helped us win that game,” Romar said of Thomas. “He came out and just willed his team to win. Special players can do that.”

Thomas has 21 points and 11 assists, one short of the tournament record.

Washington also can be only the second team to repeat since Arizona won it four years in a row (1988-2002). The Huskies can also tie UCLA for the second most titles, three, one behind the Wildcats.


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