Pete Carroll got the festivities started off the way most of us knew it would go by ringing the victory bell. As that bell rang, sweet and true, I realized that it's gotten way past the time for SC basketball to get a new arena, to make it's statement in March, to have the local sports writers and announcers give it up the way they have for our fallen foes, for as long as I can remember, to have the fans really show up and support this team - it's time for some damn respect, because the USC Men's Basketball team has earned it!
For those of you who couldn't make it down, you missed one of the best USC sports events since Sammy Knight clocked Notre Dame with an overtime interception to seal a thirteen year old deal that must have been set with the devil because there's no other way the ball bounces one team's direction for so long without some not so fine intervention. Regardless, football is not the subject. In fact if the Men's football team played with the same level of intensity as their basketball counterparts, they'd have had a far more successful season.
On with the game. Boards baby, that was the key to the Trojans victory tonight. USC posted 45 rebounds, 23 of those were off the offensive glass leaving the Bruins flat footed and looking for help. The officials did their best to answer the Bruins' cries for help, by making some of the worst calls in Pac Ten history. Whatever USC's Coach, Henry Bibby hoped to gain by attacking the officials out for their poor work in prior games, it seemed to do nothing but backfire. The zebras were out to get SC from the opening minutes and their work kept the game closer than it should have ever been.
If there could be a star named tonight, it would be USC's star freshman, Errick Craven. When the Trojans needed a spark, rebound, steal, three or slam with the foul, the youngest of all the Trojans was there to respond. What he showed tonight was a mere glimpse of what USC fans can expect from him and his twin brother, Derrick for the next four years. However, as great as Errick was, he was no greater than the team itself. Big plays at big moments came from every player in the Cardinal and Gold. Bluthenthal went beyond his usual dominant rebounding to post 18 for the night. Clancy hit the freethrows that in games past eluded him, Granville, although benched early because of fouls, started out early hitting threes and then closed the game out at the free-throw line. He has become the team leader by example and will be the athlete that carries the Trojans into March and the 2002 run.
The bench, once again, answered with solid play as well for USC. Farmer, Dupree and O'Neil all stepped up and kept drives alive to aid in the Trojan victory. In fact, through the entire game, SC only trailed for a brief moment of the game. This was not SC's best basketball, they missed free throws, turned the ball over, got in early foul trouble and didn't get their defensive game together until half way through the first half. But from that moment on, the Bruins were playing a desperate game of catch up. The final score had SC winning by 4, but that was not indicative of the game. Ucla fought back with a round of late threes - in fact they shot 9 of 12 three pointers in the second half and it was this barrage of burps that kept the Bruins in the game.
To disrespect the Bruins, the second best basketball team in town, would be unfair to our gutty little cross-town rivals. But really, Gadzuric brought zero game, Kapono zero game, Hines zero game, Bozeman zero game and other than Knight and Barnes, Ucla wasn't their to play. It felt a little reminiscent of the recent football matchup, where the Bruins seemed happier to roll over than put up a fight. Kapono and the boys were flatfooted and rarely under the basket for the board. Their game plan, coached by the man we're all learning to love through his poor team development, was to continually foul, send the Trojans to the line and then come back with a try for another three. It worked occasionally but eventually that thin game plan saw the Bruins falling further and further behind. Eventually time ran out and so did the Bruins final claim to anything sport's related in Los Angeles - save a handicapped parking scandal.
I guess you could say this win was big - it left SC alone at the top of the Pac with the rest of the season in the palm of their hands. I guess you could also say this post game wrap up is filled with some smack - it is. But after listening to Lavin being interviewed after the game, not give the Trojans the respect the best team in the Pac deserves, I felt a little smack was in order. Ring that bell!