Cold Duck, not a champagne USC could acquire the taste for this season, but tonight it was the bubbly of choice.
As good as the Oregon Ducks shot the three pointer going 6 of 8 in the first half, they did nothing but go on ice for the remainder of the game. That, coupled with the Trojans perfect play at the line, and you've got the ingredients for a Cardinal and Gold celebration.
In these first two games of tournament play, the bench warmers for USC have gotten hot. Both Farmer and Dupree have been the difference makers for the Trojans. The mad scientist, Henry Bibby, is beginning to look brilliant. Earlier this season, he used a revolving door policy with his players and the minutes they'd be granted. Now, that rotation is paying dividends as the Trojans finally feature a bench that can not only keep them in the game, but actually offer a boost in critical moments of play.
Jerry Dupree has been compared to Jeff Trepagnier and it is now becoming apparent as to why. This young man can slam, block, dish and pull up at the twelve to fifteen foot range and pop. Heading into the NCAA's USC needs Dupree perhaps more than any other player on the court. Coupled with his brilliance is his partner in crime, Desmon Farmer. Farmer's emotions can sometimes lead to erratic play, but tempered by the three seniors and having the maturity to actually listen, Desmon has produced his two biggest games of the season, back to back.
The one qualifier of SC's play of late is their poor defense. This might sound strange as that has always been their strength, but the Trojans are failing to cover the open man. Had the Ducks not gone ice cold for five full minutes tonight, SC may not have ever caught up, much less pulled ahead. But, pull ahead they did and with maturity, confidence and true team play now find themselves in the Pac Ten finals.
I don't know if people can appreciate this, but SC had the toughest draw of the tournament. Remember Ucla laughing about drawing Cal? They were dancing because they felt that Stanford was the better team and the tournament seeded Cal ahead of their rivals. Measure that with the fact that few, if anybody, picked SC to sweep Stanford and you might get a picture of how monster the Trojans first game victory was. Then their second game is up against the Pac Ten champs - the tournament number one seed - and it all becomes crystal clear - SC had a tough climb ahead. But, climb they did and are now on top of the mountain looking down.
For the Trojans only tomorrow awaits. What's brilliant about the matchup is that they've got to come up winners against either the only other team besides the Ducks that swept them in the regular season, or really the most fundamentally sound team in the Pac Ten. One tall order, but a call SC is ready to respond to.
Looking back at the Trojans brilliant round of eight run in the 2001 NCAA tournament, it becomes easy to see where USC is finding its toughness. Brandon Granville, Sam Clancy, David Bluthenthal and Desmon Farmer have all been there before. I think coming into tournament play, Granville will prove the difference. This is a young man who went thirty-eight straight at the free-throw line this season and when his team needed him most tonight, against Oregon, answered the call. He learned great lessons from last year's run. He has become a coach on the floor for Henry Bibby and will be sorely missed following his graduation. All that light on Brandon should not diminish the focus on his fellow seniors.
David Bluthenthal will play the best basketball of his college career in the next two to three weeks. You can see and feel it in this young man. He is handling the ball well, getting his looks, fighting hard for the rebounds and taking charge of his own destiny. This is a player who has major NBA potential if he can truly believe in himself. Right now, he does and the Trojans are going to benefit in this years post season. The other man, not missed by any, is Sam Clancy. Sam is playing smart and well within himself. SC plays its game without a true center, because of injury to Charissis, but Clancy as a big forward has stepped up superbly. He is so strong underneath that teams fear defending him.
Did I say earlier this year that this is the best basketball team SC has had in years? If I did, wait until 2002-03. The young players making their mark are better as a group then the three heralded seniors. They are also blessed to be learning from great players. USC basketball is back on the map and all I can say is, it's about time.
When the Trojans wrap this season, I hope they shower the locker room with a champagne we all could acquire a year round taste for - duck, very cold duck.