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TULSA, Okla. -- Credit Andy Enfield for knowing his surroundings. At least for a moment late Friday afternoon, Southern California’s coach and his basketball program owned the southern California city and the Pac-12 Conference that usually overshadows it.
“It is called ... L.A.,” Enfield said of the play that resulted in Elijah Stewart’s corner 3 to lift the No. 11-seeded Trojans over sixth-seeded SMU 66-65. “I’m joking.”
No, that would have been too good a story even for La-La Land. The biggest shot of Stewart’s life resulted in a program-best 26th win but come on how long is this going to last?
USC (26-9) is overshadowed most any basketball season by crosstown rival UCLA. This season -- wait, at this moment -- the Bruins, Arizona and Oregon are favored in varying degrees to reach the Final Four.
But as of 5 p.m. ET Friday, only Oregon and Arizona among those three top-10 Pac-12 teams had played in the tournament. The Trojans were kings of the BOK Center here moving on to the round of 32 for the first time since 2009.
“The question maybe people need to be asking,” USC athletic director Lynn Swann said, “is how would Andy feel if he could turn USC not into just a football program but be known for a great basketball program?”
That is an open-ended question. But coming off Clay Helton’s Rose Bowl win -- USC’s first in eight years -- life ain’t bad in Troy.
At least USC is playing good-enough basketball at a football school. Right now, that’s enough.
In his fourth season at USC, Enfield is still only seven games above .500 (70-63). He has as many 20-loss, last-place Pac-12 finishes as NCAA Tournament berths.
Slowly, surely, prospects seem to be improving. Enfield is attempting to have the Trojans play the same way as his Florida Gulf Coast teams did, which landed him this job.
“Very similar, we have athletes,” he said. “A lot of our tempo and transition is based on stealing the ball, getting deflections and blocking shots and then getting defensive stops and rebounding.”
That’s basically the way it went against SMU which led by six with 18 minutes left, but saw it slowly melt away.
Too bad for the Mustangs. Last season’s team might have been better, but it was banned from the tournament thanks to Larry Brown’s probation hat trick. Part of that Hall of Fame coach’s legacy is putting three programs on NCAA probation -- Kansas, UCLA and SMU.
Brown quit last summer, leaving Tim Jankovich to mold a budding career. In Jankovich’s his first full season at SMU, the Mustangs won the American Athletic Conference regular-season title and its conference tournament.
SMU, with American Player of the Year Semi Ojeleye, led by as many 12. The plucky Trojans fought back with a little-used zone and a prayer.
When Stewart lined up for the last of his 22 points with 37 seconds left, SMU was in the process of missing the front end of two one-and-ones down the stretch and dribbling the ball out of bounds.
The Trojans made Ojeleye work for his 24 points and 10 rebounds, and they did what they’ve typically done this season -- come back, recording their 13th win after trailing by at least 10.
For the fourth consecutive season a First Four team won at least two games. USC did not do it with finesse. After beating Providence on Tuesday in Dayton, the Trojans’ flight arrived in Tulsa at 3 a.m. They got some sleep before reconvening at noon on Wednesday.
That’s not counting the charter being delayed five hours on their way to Dayton.
“You prepare your entire life for these moments,” said Enfield, who is a win away from the reason he’s at USC in the first place -- he took Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16 in 2013.
The usual celebs weren’t hanging around USC’s success. These are the early rounds in ... Tulsa. SMU had the better crowd, probably the better team and a lot more sleep coming in.
USC is familiar with being an underdog in its own city, conference and this particular bracket.
“It’s been kind hectic and awesome and really fun,” USC freshman Jonah Mathews said. “It’s us against the world. That’s how we feel.”