By MIKE CRANSTON
LAS VEGAS (AP) – Chimezie Metu had 24 points and nine rebounds, and Southern California boosted its postseason hopes by holding off Washington 78-73 on Wednesday night in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament.
Bennie Boatwright added 13 points for the sixth-seeded Trojans, who rallied from 10 points down in the first half and then withstood a sloppy finish in advancing to play No. 3 UCLA on Thursday night.
David Crisp had 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Huskies (9-22) but missed a game-tying 3-point attempt in the closing seconds. Noah Dickerson scored 18 points, but Washington was undone by 10 second-half turnovers in its school-record 13th straight loss.
Washington played without potential No. 1 NBA draft pick Markelle Fultz for a fourth straight game. The Pac-12 top scorer sat out with a sore knee, meaning the freshman’s college career is likely over.
USC (24-8) likely needed a win to stay in NCAA Tournament contention, but the Trojans struggled much of the night, not putting it away until Shaqquan Aaron hit two free throws with 3 seconds left.
Washington came out hot in the teams’ second meeting in five days, with Matisse Thybulle hitting three straight 3-pointers to put the 11th-seeded Huskies up 37-27.
But USC switching to a zone and Metu’s play inside fueled a 10-2 run to close the half. The Trojans took their first lead early in the second half on consecutive dunks by Metu.
Things unraveled for the Huskies from there. Malik Monk had to leave briefly with an apparent finger injury after blocking a shot. Then a foul and ensuing technical foul on Carlos Johnson led to Boatwright hitting four straight free throws and USC soon led by 14.
USC missed three late free throws to help Washington get within 76-73 with 22 seconds left.
Washington: Next season can’t come soon enough for the Huskies. Coach Lorenzo Romar is expected to return for a 16th year in part because he’s signed Michael Porter Jr., the No. 1 player in the 2017 recruiting class.
USC: Thanks to a recent four-game losing streak and only two wins over AP Top 25 teams (UCLA, No. 12 SMU), falling to the downtrodden Huskies might have extinguished the Trojans’ NCAA Tournament hopes.
Washington: Romar has also signed prep standouts Jaylen Nowell, Daejon Davis and Blake Harris, giving the Huskies their best projected freshmen class next season.
USC: The Trojans split two games with UCLA, but the last meeting was ugly. The Bruins rolled at home, 102-70 on Feb. 18, and are hoping to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.