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Jung Money: USC can redeem itself on Saturday

first_imgOllie Jung | Daily TrojanDepending on your perspective, the men’s basketball game this weekend can mean everything or nothing. Who could’ve known at the start of this season — with an FBI scandal hanging over the program before the first game even tipped off — that USC would be in a position to potentially earn a share of the regular season Pac-12 title?Even if that doesn’t materialize, the squad has still clinched its best-ever finish in the Pac-12 under head coach Andy Enfield. The feat would be even sweeter coming with a win over UCLA, and it would be a poetic way to confirm the Trojans’ rise over the last few years from conference punching bag to national force. A victory would mean everything.Then again, this game has little bearing on USC’s spot in the NCAA tournament. Sure, one last W to end the regular season may clinch a ticket to the Big Dance, but a loss won’t bury the Trojans with a second bite at the cherry waiting at the conference tourney in Las Vegas next week. In that sense, this game means almost nothing.Maybe you’re the ultimate pessimist and see the hammer of the law (or NCAA) coming down onto Heritage Hall in the near future. I can’t blame you for being paranoid — it’s not often we see this much smoke and find out there’s no fire — and if you assume that any wins from this season will ultimately not count, then in your eyes, this game really means nothing.But let’s think happy thoughts and buy into the symbolism of the moment (it’s hard to write a column about a meaningless game). When USC lost in Westwood last month, it kicked off a three-game skid that many feared would prove deadly come March. A strong response has put such doubts to rest. The Trojans will clinch the second seed in the Pac-12 tournament with a win in Saturday’s crosstown showdown.Beyond that, the team also has the opportunity to set the record straight after blowing a double-digit lead in its defeat at UCLA. Had the Trojans hung on to win at Pauley Pavilion, they would have already locked up the second seed this week and would have been fighting for a possible outright regular-season conference title. Regardless of how much turmoil it is in, Arizona is unlikely to lose to last-place Cal, so this is probably a moot point; nevertheless, it has to irk the Trojans that they are not considered the clearly superior team in Los Angeles, despite hanging near the Pac-12 summit all season while the Bruins currently sit in fourth.The perception might be different if USC had put last month’s game away. Saturday presents a chance to correct that mistake — to remind everyone that the Trojans have owned their archrivals at the Galen Center in recent years, with their last home loss against the Bruins coming in early 2015.Of course, you can never assume victory against UCLA. USC has only recently shed its perennial underdog label in the crosstown rivalry, and it would be both silly and dangerous to get so cocky so quickly. The Bruins may be coming off back-to-back losses against Utah and Colorado (the two teams USC has most recently defeated), but they also come from victories over Kentucky and Arizona this season. You don’t luck into beating both of those squads: UCLA can top anyone on its day.So can the Trojans, though. A strength of schedule higher than the likes of No. 7 Gonzaga and No. 12 Texas Tech, plus a win versus a strong Middle Tennessee squad are testaments to that fact. Returning to its fortress riding a four-game winning streak, USC has every reason to be confident and no reason to be complacent heading into the regular-season finale.The Trojans may lose — such is the nature of rivalry games — but if they do, fans can safely fall back on the pragmatist’s argument: This game will prove irrelevant with a strong showing in the Pac-12 Tournament next week.Still, no matter how indifferent you may be about Saturday’s game, it can’t truly mean nothing. We’re talking about a tilt against the Bruins here. Even if it makes no practical impact on the Trojans’ postseason resume, a victory against UCLA would still be something to be savored — and a vacated win still trumps a loss.Ollie Jung is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. His column, “Jung Money,” runs Fridays.last_img

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