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USC fires men’s basketball coach O’Neill

Longtime aide Cantu steps in on interim basis

LOS ANGELES – Kevin O’Neill took over a troubled Southern California men’s basketball team, getting the Trojans back to the NCAA tournament after NCAA issues kept them out in his first season while producing winning records twice in 3 1/2 years.

It wasn’t enough. He was fired Monday with the Trojans 7-10 overall and 2-2 in the Pac-12 after splitting on a weekend road trip.

“We just didn’t win enough last year and this year. That’s what this business is,” O’Neill told the Associated Press by phone. “We tried to do as well as we could, tried to get the program to the highest level. My goal every day … was to try to win a national title.”

He had a 48-65 record at the school known primarily for its powerful football program. He was 6-26 last year while setting a USC record for losses.

Athletic director Pat Haden said the program needed new leadership. “Despite a nice road win in our last game, I felt it was best to make a change now, with most of the Pac-12 season still ahead of us, in order to re-energize our team.”

Veteran assistant Bob Cantu will serve as interim coach while USC searches for a successor.

Cantu took over for O’Neill during a Pac-10 tournament semifinal game against Arizona in 2010-11 when the coach was suspended after getting into a verbal confrontation with a Wildcats booster. Cantu has remained on the staff through four coaching changes and is the longest tenured assistant in the Pac-12.

“Couldn’t be more excited and anxious to get started with (hashtag) coachbobcantu,” tweeted senior center James Blaszyk.

“There’s been a lot of challenges in it but I really enjoyed my time,” O’Neill told the AP. “I’m thankful for my opportunity. I’m going to cheer for them every day.”