TEMPE, Ariz — That noise at the end of USC's victory over Arizona State at the University Activity Center was not the final buzzer, but a collective sigh of relief from the Trojan bench.
Rarely in this Pacific 10 Conference season has a team won on the road when it dozed off as USC did in front of 4,572, but because of much luck and a little skill the Trojans were victorious Thursday night.
"The bottom line is it's a win," USC Coach Henry Bibby said after his team's 72-66 victory. "It's an ugly win."
Ugly as it was, USC remained tied for first place in the Pacific 10 Conference with UCLA after the Bruins' victory Thursday, and can finally direct its attention to the real reason it flew to Arizona . . . to play against the Wildcats at the McKale Center on Saturday.
"Maybe we were looking ahead to Arizona," center David Crouse said. "Against a better team we would have lost tonight."
Said Elias Ayuso: "We slipped but we got that out of the way. Now we can be more focused."
The Trojans almost forgot to win against the Sun Devils, and did everything possible to keep Arizona State in the game until the very end. Consider:
--Rodrick Rhodes, who was slowed because of flu, did not take a shot in 26 minutes.
--Gary Williams kept USC ahead in the first half by tying his career high with 16, but then went scoreless in the second half.
Only Crouse finding himself in the second half, and a long three-point basket by Stais Boseman with six seconds left, kept USC tied for first at 9-3 in the conference and 14-7 overall.
"We need to remember that every game is for first place," Williams said. "Not just Arizona, but this game tonight."
Said Ayuso: "It's a relief. Now we can go watch some film and get ready for Saturday."
Crouse, who was benched for most the first half in what seems to be an every-other game occurrence, scored all 10 of his points in the second half and provided the game's biggest defensive play.
After Arizona State had taken a 46-43 lead six minutes into the second half, Crouse scored six points and added an assist during a 9-0 Trojan run. With 2:40 left and USC ahead, 66-62, Crouse blocked Jeremy Veal's shot. Boseman picked up the ball, was fouled and made two free throws for a six-point Trojan lead.
"I saw [Veal] coming and Stais trailing and no one had moved over to give him help," Crouse said. "[Veal] just kind of laid it softly up there and I just went up and got it. And then it bounced into Stais' arms."
Said Bibby: "That was probably the turning point in the game."
If that wasn't, Boseman's jump shot was. With Arizona State trailing, 69-66, Boseman made his three-point basket from the right side with two seconds left on the shot clock. Boseman finished with 16 points.
"I really didn't know what to call because we weren't executing," Bibby said. "We stopped going inside because we were turning it over . . . so you put the ball in old reliable's hands and hopefully something good is going to happen."
Boseman did a marvelous job defending Veal, limiting him to two-of-13 shooting and four points--16 below his average.
"[USC] really keyed on him," Sun Devil Coach Bill Frieder said. "They were trapping him. They were pressing him. Some other players stepped up for us, but we needed the usual 20 points from Veal."
Arizona State's Eddie House scored a game-high 18, and Mike Batiste had 13, but the Sun Devils (10-13) still lost, mostly because they are every bit as bad as their 2-9 conference record indicates.
USC gave Arizona State countless opportunities, committing 21 turnovers, but still swept the season series for the first time since 1992. USC has won five consecutive games, the longest Trojan winning streak since the 1991-92 season when they won nine in a row.
"Sometimes winning becomes a habit," Bibby said. "Maybe we were in the habit tonight because we sure didn't play well."
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Pacific 10 Race
Team W L UCLA 9 3 USC 9 3 California 8 4 Arizona 7 4 Stanford 7 5 Washington 6 5 Oregon 5 7 Washington State 3 8 Arizona State 2 8 Oregon State 2 10
Team W L UCLA 14 7 USC 14 7 California 17 6 Arizona 15 6 Stanford 14 6 Washington 13 7 Oregon 14 7 Washington State 11 12 Arizona State 10 13 Oregon State 6 15
Stanford 87, Oregon State 54
California 73, Oregon 66