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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT | THE FIRST STEPS

USC, UCLA Take Widely Different Routes Into the Second Round

East Regional: Trojans pull out to huge first-half lead and cruise past Oklahoma State, 69-54.

March 16, 2001|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Four years is a long time between NCAA tournament bids. So it didn't matter to the USC Trojans whom they played--even it was the team nobody wanted them to beat.

Oklahoma State came into Thursday's NCAA East Regional with the nation's affection for having reached the tournament after losing two players and eight others in a Jan. 27 plane crash.

But the sixth-seeded Trojans weren't in a sentimental mood and defeated the 11th-seeded Cowboys, 69-54, before 13,817 at the Nassau Coliseum.

USC (22-9), which got its first NCAA tournament victory since 1992, goes on to play Boston College in Saturday's second round. It is the first time the teams have played each other.

Oklahoma ends the season 20-10.

An incandescent first half carried the day for Trojans. USC erupted for a 25-2 run midway through the first half and led Oklahoma State, 48-19, after the opening 20 minutes. Although the Cowboys rallied in the second half, getting as close as 14 points, the gap was too much.

"Our sentiments go out to Oklahoma State and everything they've been through this season," USC Coach Henry Bibby said. "It's a good thing we had that big lead in the first half because they totally outplayed us in the second half. It showed how tough they are and how they persevered."

The kind words did little to soothe Oklahoma State Coach Eddie Sutton. Not after the Cowboys made only nine of 26 shots, were one of 10 from the free-throw line, were outrebounded, 26-16, and turned the ball over nine times in the first half.

"I never had a team play any worse for 20 minutes," Sutton said. "The team has been through a lot, but I thought we'd play better than we did."

While USC's 2-3 zone defense did plenty to disrupt the Cowboys--"They looked a little confused at times," Sam Clancy said afterward--the Trojans were just as effective with the ball.

Clancy was dominant inside, getting 14 of his game-high 22 points in the first half and collecting 13 rebounds. Jeff Trepagnier was simply spectacular, scoring 17 points and making three acrobatic dunks, including an no-look, behind-the-head pass from Brian Scalabrine.

Trepagnier was also strong defensively, holding Maurice Baker, the Cowboy's leading scorer (20.1) to 10 points. Fredrik Jonzen paced Oklahoma State with 17.

No one will remember that, however, after the aerial show Trepagnier put on.

"We talked about getting easy baskets," said Trepagnier, who made seven of 13 shots. "And getting those shots early really helped."

"Jeff's dunks will be there," said Scalabrine, who had 11 points and seven boards. "That best play was his first one, when Jeff put the ball on the floor, drove by everybody and got a three-point play. We've always said when Jeff plays well, we all play well."

That was an understatement in the first half, when USC held Oklahoma to one field goal for 10 minutes, and ripped off their big run that took the pro-Cowboys crowd out of the game.

It was the Trojans' biggest first half lead since a 33-point spread against Loyola Marymount last year. And it was the fewest first-half points by an opponent since the Trojans held Northwestern to 18 last year.

"The first half was the best 20 minutes we've played since I've been coaching at USC," Bibby said. "Our defense was flawless and offensively we executed everything we wanted."

It figured the Trojans had to hit a lull and the Cowboys could not keep playing that badly.

Right on both accounts. So much so it appeared the teams had switched uniforms.

USC got its biggest lead, 50-19, on Clancy's 10-foot jumper at the start of the second half. Finally the Cowboys were aroused. Oklahoma went on a 13-0 run on its own, shaving the Trojans lead to 58-44 with 8:01 to play.

But the Cowboys were slowed in their comeback by an inability to make three-pointers (one of 10). Instead of risking the long shots, Oklahoma State players repeatedly drove into the lane, and were rejected by Clancy and Trepagnier, who combined for all six Trojan blocks.

Still, as good as the Trojans were in the first half, they were that bad in the second half. USC only made six shots in 28 attempts and scored their fewest second-half points this season (21). But the Trojans were steady at the free throw line, making 15 of 18, while the Cowboys struggled, making only three of 17.

USC can enjoy the victory. But the Trojans said they cannot have the same kind of second-half siesta against Boston College and expect to win.

"We'll have to play defense for 40 minutes, not 20," Scalabrine said."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

GAME REPORT

HIGH SCORERS

USC

Clancy, 22

OSU

Jonzen, 17

MOST

REBOUNDS

USC

Clancy, 13

OSU

A. Williams, 13

MOST

ASSISTS

USC

Granville, 5

OSU

V. Williams, 3

*

TALE OF THE TAPE

USC and OSU

69 POINTS 54

42 REBS 32

12 TO 12

39.1 FG% 43.9

33.3 3PT.% 10.0

83.3 FT% 17.6

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