PALO ALTO — You forgive the mistakes because they play so hard. You forgive the sloppiness because they never let the bad things make them give up or give in. You forgive them the silly fouls and "Oh, no!" shots because of the "Oh, my!" rebounds from Sam Clancy and "Oh, yeah!" three-point baskets from David Bluthenthal and the "Oh, wow!" fireworks from freshman Errick Craven.
USC defeated Stanford, 77-58, Thursday night at Maples Pavilion. It was the worst home loss for the Cardinal in nine seasons. The Trojans didn't only beat the Cardinal, they took the heart out of the Cardinal. They forced surrender from a team that never gives up.
"The team that competed hardest won," Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery said. "The team that wanted it most won. They came in here, took it right at us. They were more physical, got after loose balls, really played well. This is a very good basketball team."
The Trojans played without point guard Brandon Granville for 13:32 in the first half and USC led Stanford, 31-30, at the break. The Trojans came out with a furious purpose in the second half, came out the aggressors, came out with an intensity even though Sam Clancy was called for his third foul with 59 seconds left in the first half.
Two seniors who should know better, Granville and Clancy, both had three fouls by halftime. Granville had gotten his third before some of the Maples Pavilion fans had found their seats. Granville and Casey Jacobsen tussled under Stanford's basket, a double bump, a double foul. Which was OK for Jacobsen because it was his first foul. Granville couldn't take that chance, but he did. He was called for his third.
But the Trojans didn't slow down. Clancy was grabbing every rebound. Freshman Rory O'Neil was growing up before our eyes, gaining confidence by the second, making jump shots and playing defense.
From eight points down, the Trojans rallied. They rallied and wouldn't back down, so who could be upset when Clancy tried to take a charge against Jacobsen and was called for his third foul just before halftime?
With his team having gone ahead and with the prospect of Granville back on the court, it might have been smart for Clancy to back off and let Jacobsen have his layup. But conceding something is not what Coach Henry Bibby expects from his players and it is not something any Trojan is willing to do.
It is the most dangerous characteristic of the Trojans, this stubborn insistence that full speed is the only speed.
Sometimes they play too hard, which isn't smart but is better than the alternative.
When Bluthenthal missed a three-point shot midway through the second half, Granville got the rebound. Little Granville, the man with three fouls. He made his way through the lane, under the basket and took away the offensive rebound while players like 7-foot Curtis Borchardt and 6-7 Teyo Johnson practically had to scratch their heads while trying to understand what had happened.
"I can't figure out why USC is ranked only 20th," said the man who runs the press room at Maples.
A good point, but it is only one of the conundrums of this team.
How did the Trojans go ahead of Stanford while their leader sat on the bench? How did the Trojans keep up the frenetic pace with a short bench after losing starting center Kostas Charissis because of a broken bone in his left ankle earlier this week?
How is it Bluthenthal never changes the expression on his face, not when his shot is wobbly and not when it is as precise as a computer-guided weapon? How is it Craven is never deterred by his mistakes and always propelled to the extravagant--the extravagant steal or dunk or one-handed rebound?
How is it O'Neil, who could pass for a high school freshman with his wide eyes and gawky walk, could provide a steady hand for the Trojans when Granville was watching? How is it the Trojans not only scuffled for every loose ball, but got nearly all of them? How is it the Trojans were always ready with a body when a Cardinal player thought he had a clear path to the basket?
Clancy said that he sees a blossoming confidence among teammates.
"We had it at the end of last year when we got on our run," Clancy said. "It's been slow coming this year. We've had to work the young guys in. But we have it now."
Whatever happens with USC at California on Saturday, the Trojans deserve to be ranked in the top 10 nationally. Stanford was ranked No. 10 and Montgomery suggested maybe USC and Stanford should trade places.
Right now the Trojans deserve to be considered for a No. 2 seeding in the NCAA tournament. Right now the Trojans have produced consecutive victories against two programs that have been the class of the Pacific 10 Conference for several seasons, Arizona and Stanford.
As usual, Bibby would give up none of his emotions.
"We came to win the basketball game," he said.
And maybe that's the secret. The Trojans didn't come here to keep a share of first place in the Pac-10, although they did. The Trojans didn't come here to polish a national reputation, although they did. They came to win a basketball game, and they did.
Diane Pucin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.