Trojans finish flat against Heels

There's obviously no reason to be upset about losing a game like this. We've known all season long that without Taj Gibson, the Trojans have absolutely no hope in patrolling the paint. With him out of the game, North Carolina took advantage and grabbed just about every rebound. It's just how it goes sometimes.

Before this game gets started, I just want to thank this year's Trojan basketball team. They had no business being here in the Sweet 16. In fact, when the season started, they didn't even look like a tournament team. They start true freshman at the two most important positions and have just one senior starter. Tim Floyd is in just his second year as head coach and had to spend the first part of the season getting the team to believe that it didn't have to lose. They came together throughout the year and became a team that is truly a joy to root for. They play hard, have fun and do everything that you'd want a basketball team to do. I don't know how many people have already jumped on the USC basketball bandwagon, or how many people plan to in the near future, but if I were you, I'd strap myself in. We're going to be on this thing for a long time.

Nick Young is starting the game defensively on Brandan Wright. That is probably the biggest matchup of the game. Gibson should be able to handle Hansbrough, but if Wright's offensive abilities get Young in foul trouble early the Trojans could be in trouble. Offensively, I guess Young feels comfortable, he just buried a fade away over Wright for the first basket of the game.

Pruitt comes up with a steal, Hackett drives hard to the basket for a lay-up and Gibson grabs a rebound over Hansbrough for a put back. I think it's safe to say that nobody is awed by North Carolina.

Lodrick Stewart nails a three after an ugly Hansbrough shot found its way through the hoop. Hansbrough seems content to launch jump shots from outside rather than bang away with Gibson underneath. That has to be to USC's advantage.

I don't think the Heels have shot this terribly all season. Hansbrough is flailing away offensively and the team has thrown up two airballs. For a team shooting over 50 percent from the floor on the season, they look flat-out awful. Of course, I doubt it will continue much further.

Five minutes in, the score is 12-7 Trojans. At this point, the game doesn't feel all that different than the Texas contest.

Huge play by Gibson. He flew past Hansbrough on the dribble and got the lay-up and one. He's taking on this entire back line and doesn't even seem bothered. If he can stay out of foul trouble, he's going to have a monster game.

Nick Young hits a wide open three pointer from the top of the key. They needed that shot to calm them down after consecutive turnovers. It's 18-7 Trojans and North Carolina looks totally out of sync.

Hansbrough picks up his second foul of the game and takes a seat. Not a bad thing.

Nick Young gets way too greedy trying to hit a ridiculous fade away. That leads to a Tar Heel fast break and two points.

Carolina cuts it to 24-20 as they head into a break. The Trojans went through one of their mini fades during the past few minutes, but they still hold a lead. One of the themes of the past few tournament games is the lower seed jumping out to a sizeable lead over the favorite, only to see the one or two seed come storming back for the win. The Trojans need to understand that they aren't going to blow out North Carolina. Every single possession is important, even with an 11-point lead. Silly turnovers and forced jumpers are going to make the Tar Heel comeback that much easier.

As a side note, I've written "Tar Heel" about 70 times over the last two days and I've managed to write "Tar Hell" every single time. I have no idea why or if it's important. Just thought I'd mention it.

Brandan Wright is just killing the Trojans down low and USC can't stop the momentum swing. North Carolina ties it at 26.

Gabe Pruitt just made the play of the night to this point. After draining a three, he came back with a leaping steal, lay-up and subsequent foul shot to put the Trojans up 32-28.

North Carolina is up to 44 percent shooting from the field and has cut it to 34-33 Trojans. USC is having their way with the Tar Heels as anyone on the team can dribble past his defender. But the Trojans are getting only one shot per possession while the Heels can get two or three with Wright's leaping ability.

Reyshawn Terry is 3-of-3 from the floor and 1-for1 from beyond the arc. If he hadn't already missed a free throw, I'd be putting him on Bryce Taylor watch at this point. As it is, I'm still keeping my eye on him.

There's another air ball by Wes Miller. More like Wes Misser. Anyone?

The Trojans are on an 8-0 run over the past 2:30 to push the lead to 42-33. They just blew a few good looks to increase the lead, but now they're digging in for one final stop this half.

Hackett knocks the ball away and nearly keeps it inbounds, but North Carolina will have .8 seconds to do something here. If the Trojans can keep this lead at nine going into the half…. I mean, what more could you want? I'd be okay with Nick Young not having two fouls and Lodrick Stewart knocking down a few more wide-open shots, but realistically? I'll take this first half.

Keeping the Tar Heels away from the free throw line has been a huge reason for this lead. They are just one-of-three from the line and guys like Hansbrough and Wright have yet to go there. If the Trojans can continue to force Carolina into outside jump shots, I don't see how they can get to the line. And if they don't get to the line, it's going to be very tough for them to win.

For the Trojans in the second half, it's going to be about adjusting to what North Carolina does. Obviously, if Roy Williams lets his guys go one-on-one with USC's guards for the rest of the game, no adjustment needs to be made. The dribble penetration is there and North Carolina will be forced to give up easy lay-ups or get their big guys in trouble. If that penetration isn't there, however, the Trojans can't force it and run into offensive fouls or sloppy turnovers. USC has been very good during this tournament about playing the way they want to play, so we'll see what kind of halftime adjustments, if any, are made.

Meanwhile, Oregon is pulling a Pac-10 final on UNLV right now. They've hit about 19 consecutive threes.

Nick Young starts the second half the same way he did the first, with a fade away over Wright.

Gibson abuses Hansbrough down low and flushes one home. Is Hansbrough even playing tonight? Maybe he should have kept the mask on and painted it blue. At least then we wouldn't be able to determine who it was that was playing so poorly.

Lodrick Stewart hits a three to push the Trojans' run to 15-0. It's 49-33 USC.

Nick Young picks up his third foul with a silly decision to try and draw a charge 30 feet from the basket. That's not good for the Trojans, but I'm still having a hard time picturing how North Carolina gets back in this game. Brandan Wright has to be within ten feet of the basket to really pose a serious threat and he isn't physical enough to get there unless it's on an offensive rebound.

Gibson picks up his third foul on an absolutely ludicrous call. I really hope this game doesn't get taken away from the Trojans.

Gibson abuses Hansbrough on the offensive end again. If this game doesn't show how overrated Hansbrough is, I don't know what will.

There's Gibson's fourth and he's headed to the bench. There is no way to overstate how important that is to this game. The Trojans have absolutely nobody on their team who can replace Gibson inside.

It seems like North Carolina has been absolutely dominating the last few minutes, but the Trojans still hold an eight-point lead.

Could somebody please box out Wright on the offensive end? He's had two easy put backs on two trips down the floor. Considering that's how he's scored about 90 percent of his points tonight, maybe there's a theme developing.

North Carolina picks up its first team foul nearly ten minutes into the second half. Meanwhile, the Trojans have five. I'm sure that makes sense.

North Carolina gets yet another second-chance tip in. It's not going to get any better with Gibson on the bench. 59-51 Trojans.

Now it's Keith Wilkinson shutting Hansbrough down on the offensive end. At this point, I think I could give him a run.

Hey guess what. Another second-chance tip in by North Carolina. The Trojans have absolutely no desire to box anyone out right now. That's what is going to give this game away.

Nick Young gets sloppy with the ball again. A few possessions after stepping out of bounds to turn the ball over, he mishandles a dribble that leads to a Heel fast break.

The Trojans are just helpless without Gibson in the game. The lead has slipped to three points and if Gibson doesn't play for these last eight minutes, North Carolina is going to start running away with this. It's too bad, because without those offensive rebound put backs, Carolina would have about 15 total points.

Young with yet another turnover. This tournament probably did a lot for his draft stock, but he gets lazy with the ball far too often. His dribble can get away from his body. I don't know if that's going to hurt him in the eyes of the NBA, but he's never a sure thing when handling the ball.

North Carolina gets three shots on one possession, as Marcus Ginyard pulls down two offensive rebounds. The Tar Heels have 16 offensive rebounds and I don't think anyone on the Trojans has any idea how to defend that. As a result, North Carolina has taken 66 shots, compared to USC's 47. There's still more than seven minutes remaining, but if that isn't fixed, the Trojans can't keep up.

Carolina blows a fast break dunk and still gets the offensive rebound for a put back. It's not even funny anymore.

64-59 North Carolina. The Trojans haven't been outplayed like this in a long time. They just don't have anything left.

The Trojans went 8:12 without a basket before Lodrick Stewart's three. I know the Trojans can go into slumps occasionally, but that was out of control. If they can even keep this game close for the final four minutes, they should be proud.

When I said before that North Carolina would have a hard time coming back in this game, I obviously forgot to foresee Taj Gibson's three quick, cheap fouls and the Trojans completely falling asleep on the defensive glass. Silly me.

I can't believe Billy Packer is giving Roy Williams credit for a great game plan and for fighting back tonight. Yeah, good job Roy. I know it's tough to have seven of the ten best players in this game and still have to rely on a freakishly outstanding rebounding game to pull out a close win. You really showed us.

Of course, after he says that, North Carolina comes up with two of the worst offensive possessions of the game.

Nick Young misses a huge three. That's not a good shot, but I guess if you're going down, you go down with Young.

And the referees decide to end the game early by hitting Taj Gibson with a fifth foul on a moving screen. What a terrible way to end the game.

There is going to be some noise about that technical Tim Floyd just picked up. Don't listen to it. At that point, the Trojans weren't going to win that game and I'm absolutely fine with a coach who lives and dies with his players.

Final score: North Carolina – 74, Trojans – 64

I really don't know how to describe this game. North Carolina was supposed to be one of the best teams in the tournament and USC's starting five completely blew them away. Taj Gibson dominated the paint. Gabe Pruitt and Daniel Hackett did whatever they wanted to against Carolina's guards. Nick Young was head and shoulders better than Brandan Wright and Lodrick Stewart hit more threes than anyone. It was truly surprising how well the Trojans played.

But with Gibson out, the Trojans' depth just couldn't hang with the Tar Heels. North Carolina threw ten different players at the Trojans and sent them in wave after wave. The pace never changed and the Trojans' starting five couldn't stay together and eventually wore down. The Tar Heels finished the game on a ridiculous run, fueled largely by the Trojans simply running out of gas.

There's obviously no reason to be upset about losing a game like this. We've known all season long that without Taj Gibson, the Trojans have absolutely no hope in patrolling the paint. With him out of the game, North Carolina took advantage and grabbed just about every rebound. Brandan Wright finished with 21 points and none of them came from beyond three feet of the basket. It's just how it goes sometimes.

By far the most impressive thing for me, again, was how the Trojans' starters dominated this game. As a USC fan, you have to be excited about that.

This Trojan team simply didn't have the depth to go further in this tournament. And considering where they were two years ago, that's easy to understand. But, with Tim Floyd recruiting the way he is and with the guys returning next year, it's also easy to understand the excitement that will surround this team for years to come.

If, at the beginning of the season, you told me that the Trojans would advance to the Sweet 16 and give North Carolina all they could handle before bowing out, I wouldn't have believed it.

But now that I've seen it, all I can do is thank Tim Floyd and this season's Trojan basketball team for taking us fans on a memorable run. Let's do it again next year.

Erik McKinney is a columnist for WeAreSC.com and he can be reached at erik.mckinney@gmail.com.


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