USC assistant coach Bob Cantu gets opportunity

Cantu has waited and waited, and now he's got a chance on an interim basis with the Trojans. (US Presswire)

Bob Cantu was hired a dozen years ago by Henry Bibby. He's gone through a year with interim coach Jim Saia, five days with Rick Majerus, four years under Tim Floyd and the last three-plus years as Kevin O'Neill's associate head coach. 

Now he's in charge. 

The 38-year-old Cantu was given the interim tag from USC athletic director Pat Haden after O'Neill was fired on Monday. O'Neill compiled a 7-10 overall mark and a 2-2 record in Pac-12 play. 

"Obviously, I was extremely surprised by the timing," Cantu told "We played really well against Utah, and I didn't see it coming. It's unfortunate, but now we've got to find a way to win games. We've got the talent." 

USC is coming off a 75-59 road victory against Utah. The Trojans have quality depth with guards J.T. Terrell, Jio Fontan and Byron Wesley, 7-footers Omar Oraby and Dewayne Dedmon and forward Eric Wise -- who leads the team in scoring. 

"I'm going to try and play faster," Cantu said. "We're going to try and utilize our depth and athleticism. We're going to press and play some zone at times." 

O'Neill, who was 48-65 during his tenure at USC, never pressed, and he preferred to play man-to-man defense. He also rarely got up and down the court. Now Cantu, who coached the team in a 67-62 loss to Arizona in the 2011 Pac-12 tournament semifinals, a game in which O'Neill was suspended, will try to get the Trojans to be more cohesive. The early season schedule was far too daunting for a team that won just six games a year ago and added so many new faces. 

"It was a very difficult schedule," Cantu said. "And it was tough on our confidence." 

But a change was the right move. Cantu understands it's unlikely Haden will give him the permanent gig, but he also knows anything's possible -- judging by the fact that he's outlasted four (or five) regimes. His opportunity begins Thursday night at the Galen Center against Oregon. 

"I've been in different positions since I've been at USC and had an opportunity to see things that worked and things that didn't," Cantu said. "I've learned a lot and, although I feel terrible for Kevin, I'm thankful for the opportunity to get head coaching experience and see what I can do. It's never easy to take over in the middle of the season, but the players seemed positive at the end of the meeting."

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