Not long after USC landed back in Los Angeles after snapping a 14-game road losing streak with a 76-59 Pacific-12 Conference win at Utah last Saturday, coach Kevin O’Neill was fired.
It came as a shock to Bob Cantu, who was installed as interim coach, when USC athletic director Pat Haden called and asked if he would step in. Stunned, Cantu was explaining to the team 30 minutes later that he was the new coach.
A midseason coaching change in college basketball is rare and dramatic. O’Neill had struggled in his four seasons at USC, where he was 48-65 overall. The Trojans finished the injury-filled 2011-12 season with a 6-26 record.
“Anytime you change the voice for any team at any level, it’s completely different,” Cantu said. “My message to the guys was life is about adversity. You never know when something is going to happen. How are you going to adjust to this?”
Cantu plans on giving talented guard J.T. Terrell, who clashed with O’Neill, more freedom in the offense. He also said the Trojans will play more zone and attempt to run more.
Though his title as head coach is new for Cantu at USC (7-10 overall, 2-2 Pac-12), it’s not a large leap. He’s been at the school for 12 years and had the title of associate coach prior to O’Neill’s departure.
“He’s been so good to me. I’m so thankful to him,” Cantu said of O’Neill. “I was here when he got the job and he kept me on the staff and promoted me to associate coach,” Cantu said. “I would never be in position to be interim coach if it wasn’t for that.”
HUSKIES IMPRESS COACHES
Washington’s three-game road winning streak to open conference play impressed UCLA coach Ben Howland.
“Washington is playing great right now,” Howland said. “Washington, to me, is leading the league. They have three wins and they’re all on the road.”
One of those wins was a rather easy one over Mike Montgomery’s Cal team, 62-47, a week ago. Montgomery did an impressive thing in his assessment of Washington: in one statement, he questioned Washington’s success and the ability of his own team.
“They’ve got really good players. It’s not like they don’t have players,” Montgomery said. “They’re not bad. They have three road breakthroughs, but it remains to be seen if those road breakthroughs are against the premier teams. They still have got to play the better teams in the league.
“It remains to be seen. I don’t know if they’re a top-three team, but they have three road breakthroughs, that’s pretty good.”
So, enjoy that compliment.
Washington and Washington State flew back home then back to the Bay Area in the middle of their recent trips. Colorado will stay in the Northwest this week with road games today at Washington and Saturday at Washington State. Utah will fly home between stops at Pullman and Seattle. Schools are still trying to figure out the best way to navigate late starts required by the Pac-12 Networks television schedule. … Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said suspended forward Eric Moreland and guard/forward Victor Robbins will be reinstated Saturday. The two were suspended indefinitely for violating team rules last Friday. … Washington State coach Ken Bone said his team needs to give forward Brock Motum some offensive help. Bone said Mike Ladd has been more assertive of late, but he wants DaVonté Lacy, Royce Woolridge and Dexter Kernich-Drew to help Motum firstname.lastname@example.org @Todd_Dybas