- Associated Press - Saturday, March 12, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Southern California coach Kevin O’Neill was suspended for the rest of the Pac-10 tournament Friday after getting into a verbal confrontation with an Arizona booster.

The school announced the suspension about two hours before the Trojans played the Wildcats and lost 67-62 in the semifinals at Staples Center with associate coach Bob Cantu taking over.

“It was shocking, I didn’t expect to hear that. It kind of caught everybody off-guard,” senior Alex Stepheson said. “We would have liked to get this one in honor of him. But it didn’t work out.”

USC athletic director Pat Haden said in a statement that O’Neill would receive additional discipline that would remain private.

Cantu said he talked to O’Neill briefly on Thursday night after receiving text messages about the incident while he was still at Staples scouting games.

“This morning we met with the team and kind of told them what was going on. But no one really knew what was going to exactly happen,” said Cantu, who found out at 3 p.m. that he would be in charge for the first time in a Division I game.

“The guys responded. I could see in their eyes they really wanted to compete and I’m just proud of their efforts.”

O’Neill apologized through multiple media outlets earlier Friday for what he said was a confrontation involving himself, his wife and the Arizona booster on Thursday night at the team’s hotel after the Trojans’ quarterfinal victory against California.

The coach and his wife, Roberta, stopped at the JW Marriott to pick up some items before returning to their home. As they came off the elevator, O’Neill encountered an Arizona booster with whom he said he doesn’t get along.

O’Neill said he and the booster got into a verbal confrontation in the lobby and that his wife also became involved. He said there was no physical contact and that the argument ended when a security guard approached.

“I want to apologize to my team, our university and our fans for my involvement last night in an incident with a fan,” he said in a statement through the school.

“I understand my behavior as the leader of our team was unacceptable. I used poor judgment and put myself, my team and USC in a bad light. I regret that I have let them down.”

Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said he agreed with Haden’s decision.

“We commend USC for its actions,” he said.

Through 14 seasons as a college coach, O’Neill has developed a reputation for being fiery both on and off the court.

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