12,500 people showed up to watch the USC Trojans tame the Wildcats of Arizona and all I can say is, "It's about time." The crowd's thunderous roar nearly leveled the Sports Arena, which would have been the second best thing to happen to SC basketball in nearly a decade. The number one thing, that has happened, to the Trojans is Sam Clancy. He was certainly not the sole reason for tonight's victory, but at times his shoulders seemed as broad as those of Atlas. Sam the Man virtually carried the team through this game, collecting his tenth straight double-double. If he's not named Pac Ten Player of the Week, then the award should be thrown away.
And if like Sam, the men's basketball team has to work for its dinner, not only in this town, but around the nation, then tonight they deserve to eat like kings. Through solid coaching down the stretch, clutch free throw shooting , dagger type threes, monster boards all out hustle, the Trojans managed to elude something that has plagued them all season: the buzzer beater.
Arizona rained three pointers through most of the second half turning USC's six point lead into a thirteen point deficit. That's when Bibby showed his mettle and switched the defense to man. For four straight minutes SC shut down the Cats and put together a nine-o (we all remember the "Nine-O"), run that in the end, proved to be the last life left in Arizona.
Like any vermin, however, the Cats would not go quietly. Led by outstanding three point shooting from Jason Gardner and tough buckets underneath from Walton, Lute Olsen's team was in it till the end. Arizona shot fifty-five percent from the three point line and seemed to hit all of them in the closing minutes, chipping away at SC's lead. SC answered at the line as Granville nailing seven free throws in eight attempts to keep the Trojans alive. And in what seemed like a Cardinal and Gold curse, Arizona hit three, three pointers in a row and then, the fourth to tie the game, but in the attempt they were called for traveling nullifying the basket. SC took possession, broke the press got the ball out to a free Craven for a final dunk to end the game, making this the Trojans first victory over a top then; did I say "then?" I meant Ten, team this season.
This swing against the Arizona schools, couple with Ucla's loss today against the Sun Devils, puts the Trojans in first place. However, they are not alone. If today's games go as predicted, then four teams will have a share of the Pac Ten lead. This week was a major step in the right direction for USC and if they can at least split on the road against Stanford and Cal, then it should be smooth sailing for SC right into the Pac Ten tournament.
Every team in the Pac is playing strong, but SC seems to be hitting their stride. With Bluthenthal finally finding his grove, the Trojans become a tough team to beat. As cold as David was earlier in the year, he has put together two excellent games this last week and managed a searing 31 points along with ten rebounds. His shooting is key if SC hopes to have a strong March run.
So tonight, the USC Trojans along with their fans, brought the house down. They also clearly claimed their place as THE basketball program in Los Angeles for the 2001 season.
And that, is how it should be.