So losing 75-67 to No. 18 New Mexico on Wednesday night wasn't the worst of outcomes, Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill said.
"It's a brutal stretch," he said of the seven-game swing that includes games against four ranked teams. "If we can survive it, we'll be fine."
For a while USC (3-5) was thriving, taking a 28-18 lead over the Lobos (9-0).
But then New Mexico got its act together, putting together a 25-6 run over the final 7 minutes of the first half.
"That killed us," O'Neill said. "We didn't guard anybody. We couldn't guard a lunch in a kindergarten class. The game was really won in the last 7 minutes of the first half."
Hugh Greenwood, who led all scorers with 17 points, hit two 3-pointers in the closing minutes, including one at the shot-clock buzzer with 5 seconds left in the half, to give New Mexico a 43-34 lead.
Over the final 7 minutes of the first half, New Mexico connected on 8 of 11 shots from the field, including 4 of 6 on 3-pointers.
Eric Wise had 14 points to lead five Trojans in double figures while Dewayne Dedmon added 12 points and nine rebounds. But USC had trouble with New Mexico 7-foot post Alex Kirk, who had 13 points and 13 rebounds.
"I think Kirk is really good," O'Neill said. "That guy is going to be a heck of a player."
USC did turn in one of its better shooting performances, going 27 of 51 from the field, prompting O'Neill to say, "I liked the way we played offense."
The Trojans outscored New Mexico 32-20 in the paint and 17-4 on fast-break opportunities, but the Lobos won the battle of the boards 31-23 and had a 17-7 scoring advantage off the bench.
New Mexico took its biggest lead at 59-42 before the Trojans closed the gap behind a 13-2 run that made it 70-65 with 2:13 left.
"We cut it to five and we had our chances," O'Neill said.
But Kendall Williams followed with a 3-pointer for New Mexico to break the streak.
"You get a 17-point lead at home there are a lot of things to go wrong to be caught," Lobos coach Steve Alford said. "I thought USC did a good job of continuing to play extremely hard."
That rally showed that the Trojans have some promise despite losing their fourth straight, O'Neill said.
"We have 10 new players," he said. "I'm glad with the way we played."