Trojans Fight On to Second Round

With a victory over the Stanford Cardinal, the USC Trojans will move on to the second round of the Pac-10 Tournament and take on the winner of the Washington State – Washington game.

Here's how it happened.

During the pregame show on Fox Sports Net, they're showing video of Nick Young walking to the locker room from the bus. There's plenty to say about what Nick Young has done for the Trojan program, but it's time to put an end to the talk of him leaving early for the NBA. At this point, I don't know if he would crack a starting lineup and he's nowhere near done developing physically or mentally. With an already loaded draft and the potential for 8-10 freshmen to declare, I can't see an NBA team guaranteeing Young a spot in the first round. Besides, what's the harm in staying for another year and playing with basically this same team plus the fabulous recruiting class? I'm not saying that Young isn't a fantastic player. I fully expect him to score more than his average tonight. But I don't think he's ready to take the physical abuse of NBA players over an NBA season. And, selfishly, I'd like to see what he could do with O.J. Mayo, a sophomore Taj Gibson and the rest of the returners.

Lindsay Soto is interviewing Aaron Afflalo after the UCLA loss to Cal. He looks like he's being interrogated by Al Qaeda. Lighten up Aaron. This tournament means absolutely nothing. In fact, wouldn't you rather go into the dance as anything but a number one seed? There's so much less pressure playing as a two. I mean, do one seeds even make the finals anymore? There's got to be a reason for that. And besides, why would you rather be playing games all the way until the NCAA Tournament? Won't this break for the Bruins just serve as a bye heading into the real postseason? They've got rest and motivation now. I'm certainly not signing up to play them in the first two rounds. And don't give me that stuff about momentum. That's only as important as tomorrow's starting pitcher. Or, whatever basketball's version of that saying is.

As for the game.

Three minutes in and it's 6-0 USC. I can't imagine Stanford could have come out playing any worse than this. Each of the Lopez twins has a foul and the team has about 39 turnovers. SC is really keyed up defensively, led by Gabe Pruitt at the point. He is such an active on-the-ball defender; he's good for two or three steals and a handful of tipped passes every time out.

Taj Gibson needs to realize that even though he absolutely owns Brook Lopez away from the basket, it doesn't matter how badly he beats him off the dribble if he's just going to go up soft and let Lopez get the block from behind.

There are twin boys on the court named Brook and Robin and the announcers are going on and on about having two Taj's in the same game? Let's talk about how much I'd hate to be the third Lopez brother, Jessica.

Stanford guard Kenny Brown has never seen a shot he didn't like. He just launched two of the ugliest 3-pointers I've seen in a while. I bet he fights teammates over who gets to take the last heave of a quarter.

Keith Wilkinson just picked up two fouls in a row. The officiating in this game has been atrocious. Lodrick Stewart has been a non factor ever since picking up his two quick fouls. And is it me, or have 90% of the fouls during this game been off the ball? At this point, guys could just stop dribbling altogether. It's not like officials are watching the ball.

With just under 8 minutes left, it's 20-16 Trojans. USC is getting outrebounded 11-6 and it's not going to get any better. And of course, immediately after the break, the Cardinal convert an offensive rebound into two points.

Gabe Pruitt just knocked down his first shot of the game. Playing point guard completely takes him out of the offensive flow of the game. He's so much better as a catch-and-shoot player, but when he's the one responsible for distributing the ball, he absolutely disappears. Hopefully, Daniel Hackett will continue his evolution into a big-time point guard.

Taj Gibson should just start punting his free throws at the hoop. He just missed two ugly ones.

Gibson just threw down a huge dunk after an absolutely brilliant play from Gabe Pruitt. Pruitt beat his defender off the dribble, went baseline, drew over Gibson's man and then threw it back to Gibson for the dunk. At this point, I'd really like to see Pruitt start beating his man off the dribble when it's so obvious that he can.

Daniel Hackett just got absolutely tackled before the halftime horn and no foul was called. That pretty much summed up the last 8 minutes of the first half. It's 42-31 Stanford at the break. The last part of the half was like watching a train wreck. I mean, how do you shoot 50% from the floor and get outscored 26-11? That's embarrassing. Defensively, the Trojans aren't getting it done.

Start of the second half.

Ever since Pruitt blew by his defender and set up Gibson for the dunk, he has flat out refused to try it again. I have no explanation for that. He is being covered by Anthony Goods (he of the severe ankle injury and playing in his first game back) and Pruitt is letting Goods expend all his energy on the offensive side of the court and not test that injured ankle at all. Tim Floyd should be having Pruitt just run in circles around the entire court with Goods chasing him.

This is getting embarrassing. SC just had a full possession where they double teamed a guy without the ball and allowed a wide open back-door lay-up. Then they came down with the ball and Taj Gibson forgot to dribble, turning it over with a travel. I mean, how do you decide to double team a guy without the ball? That's like a pitcher making a pickoff throw to second base with runners on first and third.

There's another example of how this game is going. Taj Gibson makes a great move on Brook Lopez, then blows a bunny lay-up, followed by Keith Wilkinson missing a tip in, and Gibson picking up a personal foul on the rebound. Brilliant.

The officials have completely taken over this game. There isn't a single big guy of consequence for either team with less than three fouls. There are still over 12 minutes left. What happens if this game goes to overtime? I can't wait to see Nick Young playing center.

With 11 minutes left, Gabe Pruitt has realized that Anthony Goods is the guy coming off a severe high ankle sprain. He just blew by him again and drew a foul. Pruitt can do that every single offensive possession from here on out.

Stanford just switched Anthony Goods onto Daniel Hackett. Hopefully Hackett keeps it up. Meanwhile, the Trojans are on a 7-0 run thanks to Pruitt's points and Hackett's surprising leadership.

Hey, we haven't heard from the officials in a while. They just nailed Pruitt for a travel and Nick Young for a defensive foul. Good job, guys. We didn't forget about you.

Fred Washington just picked up an offensive foul. I'm pretty sure that's nine on him.

I have no idea what to make of this game right now. USC is down by seven with 7:43 left to play. I'm not quite sure how that's possible. They should be losing by 50. They've been sloppy on offense, non-existent on the boards and Taj Gibson has missed the last century with foul trouble. At this point, even with all that, I still like their chances to pull this out. There's just been something about Stewart, Young and Pruitt and the end of games recently.

Pruitt nails a 3 to tie it at 59. That's the player Pruitt needs to be. Let Hackett handle the ball and find Pruitt for open shots. I like rotating Pruitt and Stewart at the same spot much more than rotating Pruitt and Hackett. The two of them (Pruitt and Hackett) have been playing together very well for the last few minutes. By the way, the officials checked in again and slapped Nick Young with his fourth foul.

Dwight Lewis hits two free throws to give the Trojans the lead. It's almost like USC is fielding two teams tonight with the ups and downs they've been having. They get such a huge lift when they're playing well defensively. And tonight, it's obvious that they've had some defensive lapses.

That's a terrible decision by Dwight Lewis. The Trojans worked about 1:30 off the clock with two straight offensive rebounds before Lewis launched an air ball three-pointer with 15 second left on the shot clock. Plays like that could give this game away at the end.

It's 67-65 Stanford with 1:06 left as Stewart checks in. He's going to make a mark on this game.

Well, here it is. The Trojans have the ball with 23.7 seconds left, down by two points. With the combination of how poorly the Trojans are shooting inside today, the presence of the Lopez twins and the officials probably not calling any touch fouls this late in the game, I'm looking for a three-pointer to win it here. I know the whole thing about play to win on the road and to tie at home, but Young, Stewart and Pruitt can all hit it and with this particular Trojan team, I think it's your best offensive weapon.

Of course, Young hits a two to tie it. Although, it was from outside.

Anthony Goods is blocked by Taj Gibson to send the game into overtime. I guarantee that if Gibson doesn't get over there, that shot goes in. Meanwhile, Kenny Brown is ignoring Lawrence Hill in the huddle after Hill threw up the final shot at the buzzer.

With Taj Gibson and Brook Lopez both playing with four fouls, I think this game goes to whoever is able to stay on the court longer.

There's Lodrick Stewart. He hits the first shot of overtime and comes back with an immediate steal. I love games like this for Stewart. He does basically nothing all game, but still has the mental ability to stay in the game and make plays like that when the team absolutely needs it.

And then…

Stewart just blew a 3-on-1 break by taking a charging foul. The Trojans blow far too many odd man rushes. They had a few just like that in games against both Washington schools. It's just poor decision making. The Trojans have had two chances to blow this game open in overtime, but Nick Young missed a three pointer and Stewart just gave the ball away on that break.

If I were Stanford, I'd foul Taj Gibson even when I had the ball. I'd foul him when he's not in the game. Heck, I'd foul him on the way to the game. If he can't hit free throws, this game will be tough to put away.

It's amazing how ineffective Fred Washington has been ever since USC found out he was left handed.

Is there a better feeling as a Trojan fan right now than watching Kenny Brown run the point for Stanford? I mean, this guy is capable of putting up a shot from half court with the shot clock at 32.

There's a steal by Pruitt and the lay-up puts the Trojans up by five. That's exactly what I was talking about with Pruitt defensively. It's uncanny how good he is at knocking those swing passes away and turning them into easy lay-ups. By the way, Kenny Brown threw that pass.

With some free throws by Daniel Hackett and Gabe Pruitt, the Trojans have put this game away.

Final score in overtime, USC 83, Stanford 79.

I'm not going to say that this was a great game. It was, however, a great win. To come back from 11-point halftime and 12-point second half deficits is impressive, especially against a team like Stanford. You have to really enjoy wins like that as players and as fans. They stayed in the game, mentally, even when it looked like they were still on the bus, physically. And any time you can put a game away in the first overtime after sending it there in the final seconds of regulation is especially sweet.

But overall, this game illustrated everything, good and bad, about this year's Trojans.

They are a team that has the potential to be dominated inside. Taj Gibson is their only true offensive inside threat and if he's not grabbing every rebound, chances are the ball is going to the other team.

Defensively, the Trojans had some possessions that looked downright horrible tonight. They fell asleep on some outside shooters and let some guys get behind them.

But, even with all that, the Trojans still came away with a win. And in doing so, they showed that they could be a difficult match-up as the postseason progresses.

First, Daniel Hackett played a tremendous game. He's really coming into his own as a true point guard and inspirational leader. With any luck, he'll start filling that role on a more permanent basis, allowing Gabe Pruitt to slide over to a more natural position, rather than bringing the ball up court every possession. Of course, Tim Floyd may not want to lose Hackett's ability to come off the bench. The Trojans will continue to be outscored off the bench, but Hackett provided a noticeable spark tonight that could be needed as the Trojans move on.

Pruitt had a great performance, even if it did improve dramatically once Hackett entered the game. He showed that he can knock down tough shots and when he is focused, his defense is off-the-charts good.

Nick Young also stepped up in the second half. He finished with a game-high 26 points and was absolutely clutch in knocking down that shot to tie the game and send it to overtime. It looks like the Trojans will progress as far as Nick Young takes them, which shouldn't cause too many concerns. He's certainly earned that responsibility.

Almost unbelievably, with all the big guys on the court, Taj Gibson was the only player who recorded a double-double, with his 19 points and 10 rebounds. What impressed me the most about Gibson was how he handled himself while saddled with four early fouls. It's not often a guy can finish an overtime game when picking up his fourth foul midway through the second half. He had some lapses in judgment, where he would drive straight into defenders or not go up strong with his shot. But when you realize that he's just a freshman, it all becomes much more impressive. I don't think Gibson needs to take over any games for the Trojans from here on out, but if he's able to sneak up on stat lines like tonight for the rest of the postseason, the Trojans should be able to stay in most games.

Overall, I don't know if I like the Trojans' chances in the NCAA Tournament any more than I did before tonight's game. They'll probably go as far as their outside game can take them and with that defense, absent any early foul trouble, I don't see them getting blown out. It's just difficult to see a team built from the outside in with no true, experienced point guard going deep in the tournament. Although, they're already deeper in the Pac-10 Tournament than any USC team since 2003.

This team should be proud of what it's accomplished to this point. They've truly proved that USC basketball is again something to be reckoned with.


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