Advertisement

MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT

Twice as Sweet

In the Round of 16 Together for the First Time, UCLA and USC Head to Philadelphia

It's One for the Books as Trojans Hang On

March 18, 2001|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The East was no beast for USC.

Instead it was a ride into history.

By outlasting third-seeded Boston College, 74-71, in Saturday's second round of the NCAA tournament, USC did more than stay alive in the East Regional.

The sixth-seeded Trojans, who play Kentucky on Thursday in Philadelphia, finally can feel like one of college basketball's big boys.

For the first time in 47 years, USC (23-9) moved past the tournament's second round. And it is the first time in school history that the Trojans have played into the Sweet 16. In 1954, USC advanced to the Final Four after winning two tournament games.

"This is the most excitement I've had in a long time," an exuberant, hoarse Coach Henry Bibby said at Nassau Coliseum. "You go to the NBA finals, you win three national championships [playing at UCLA]. But for your team to keep persevering is something I've dreamed about a lot in the last two years.

"I'm proud of these kids and what they have done."

For the Trojans, it was the biggest victory in a season that has had its share of controversy and disappointment.

"It feels good," says Jeff Trepagnier, who sat out the nonconference part of the schedule because of a foot injury and suspension during an NCAA investigation. "We always talked that we wanted to get to the tournament. We're playing together now, the chemistry is good."

USC almost handed the game to Boston College, the Big East regular season and tournament champion.

The smaller Eagles (27-5) forced the bulk of USC's 27 turnovers with a viselike full-court press. And on offense, Boston guard Troy Bell, the co-Big East player of the year, torched the Trojans for 32 points in 40 minutes.

"He's one of the best players I've seen in college this year," Bibby said. "We had a lot of problems with him."

USC had plenty of heroes. David Bluthenthal, who went scoreless against Oklahoma State on Thursday, led the Trojans with 20 points. He was followed by the high-flying Trepagnier, who dunked his way to 18 points, and Sam Clancy, who had 14 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out.

The biggest hero, however, was reserve guard Robert Hutchinson.

With 7:36 to play, and the Trojans seemingly in control 56-45, point guard Brandon Granville accidentally bumped into Bell and was whistled for his fifth foul. Hutchinson, a junior college transfer in his first season at USC, was called on to replace him.

"So many emotions were running through my head when I fouled out," said Granville, the team's primary ballhandler. "I told Hutch it was his time to shine. Coach has talked all season about everyone gets their opportunity. It might not be when you want it, but you have to stay confident."

For the Eagles, though, it was a chance to turn the game around. Their press quickly focused on Hutchinson and forced him into several quick turnovers. They pared the USC lead to 57-56 by the 5:28 mark.

"When Brandon fouled out I was a little worried because he handles the ball and he was breaking their press," Clancy said. "But we see Hutch in practice every day, and we know what he's capable of doing."

With its fans screaming and momentum on its side, Boston College seemed poised to overtake the Trojans--and did, momentarily, 64-63 on a Bell layup through traffic with 2:42 to play.

But with all the cacophony swirling around him, Hutchinson--who averages 7.2 minutes a game in relief of Granville--relaxed.

"All I thought about was I had to step up and take us to the Sweet 16," Hutchinson said.

He handled the ball without further trouble. When fouled, he made five of six free throws down the stretch. He also grabbed a big rebound and threw the ball downcourt to Clancy for a breakaway dunk.

"I knew he wasn't under the basket because I got the rebound," said Hutchinson, smiling. "I looked up and he was down the court, so I just threw it to him."

The Trojans got the lead back on a 12-foot bank shot by Clancy with 2:09 to play and stayed in front the rest of the way. But Boston College, after a final Hutchinson free throw gave the Trojans their 74-71 margin, had a chance to tie with 7.5 seconds left.

Bell took the in-bounds pass and raced up the floor. The Trojan defense collapsed around him and Bell passed to Kenny Harley. But instead of attempting a three-point shot, Harley drove the lane and missed a layup. Uka Agbai tried to dunk the rebound but missed. Time ran out and the Trojans celebrated.

"It came down to the last shot, so I tried to go for a three-point play," said Harley, who missed 10 of 12 shots and had 10 points. "At least I tried to go all the way to the basket. I was trying to make a layup, draw a foul and stop the clock. I could have hit a deep three, but I didn't want to put up a bad shot, so I just tried to get contact."

USC couldn't believe its luck.

"I thought to myself, 'Don't foul and we'll win the game,' " Brian Scalabrine said. "I don't understand the theory on that, but he was going to the basket."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Dancin' With Bibby

How the Trojans have fared in the NCAA tournament under Henry Bibby:

1997 (Seeded 11th in Southeast)

* First round--lost to Illinois, 90-77

2001 (Seeded sixth in East)

* First round--d. Oklahoma State, 69-54

* Second--d. Boston College, 74-71

*

UP NEXT

A 12-0 run to end the first half propels Kentucky over Iowa and matches the Wildcats with USC on Thursday. S4

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|