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USC fires coach O'Neill after win over Utes

Published January 15, 2013 6:20 pm

College basketball • Trojans had just won their first road conference game in almost two years.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

On Saturday, USC looked like one of the better teams in the Pac-12 Conference, smashing Utah 76-59, doing what Arizona and UCLA couldn't by blowing the Utes out of the Huntsman Center.

On Monday, the Trojans fired their head coach Kevin O'Neill.

The move surprised many throughout the conference, including many coaches. It's not often that coaches are fired after big wins, especially when considering USC hadn't won a road conference game in almost two years before Saturday.

But that's what the Trojans did, with a 7-10 record, although they are 2-2 in the Pac-12.

"It's unfortunate," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "I think I've been involved with coaches losing their jobs before. But it's usually after our team beats them."

The best in the West?

Yes, the Pac-12 Conference is better throughout. Yes, the league has an elite team in Arizona and is moving toward regaining its stature as the best conference left of the Mississippi.

Still, the Mountain West Conference can stake a claim to being the best of the West. The latest NCAA Tournament projections suggest that as many as six MWC teams have a chance to make the Big Dance in March. UNLV has as much talent as any team in the country. New Mexico has the PIT, and San Diego State has built itself into a national power.

With SDSU seemingly no longer leaving the conference for the Big East, and with Utah State entering the league, the odds are good that the Mountain West is here to stay as a basketball power.

The early running

The race for player of the year in the West Coast Conference should be among the best and the most heated in the country. You have Elias Harris from Gonzaga. You have Matthew Dellavedova from Saint Mary's. You have the high-scoring Kevin Foster from Santa Clara. And now, you have Tyler Haws. The BYU sophomore is averaging more than 20 points per game in conference play and is proving to be one of the best all-around players in the West. What Haws is doing seems more amazing when you factor in that he's still not a year removed from a two-year mission for the LDS Church.

Becoming a thorn

Last season, Louisiana Tech ended Utah State's dream of winning the Western Athletic Conference by defeating the Aggies in the first round of the league tournament. This year, the Bulldogs are the only team that appears capable of stopping USU's run to the regular-season crown. Louisiana Tech is 5-0 in the league, 14-3 overall. The Bulldogs have one of the premier scorers in the WAC with Raheem Appleby. Kenneth Smith is a quick point guard who can rebound and get into the lane. With New Mexico State and Denver on the road this week, Utah State will find itself challenged. For the 14-1 Aggies, the difficult games are looming on the horizon.