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USC Goes Strip Mining

Trojans are all business, avoiding distractions of Las Vegas and lighting up UNLV, 98-73. Rebels commit 34 turnovers.

February 10, 2003|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- This trip was all about business, and taking care of it.

There would be no walking the Strip or taking in sights for USC, playing a rare midseason nonconference game at Nevada Las Vegas on Sunday.

The only neon the Trojans would see on their 27-hour visit to the gambling mecca would be from a distance. Focused on the task at hand, USC pounded a sloppy UNLV team, 98-73 -- handing the Runnin' Rebels their worst loss in the 19-year-old Thomas & Mack Center. The Rebels committed 34 turnovers in a game between teams seemingly headed in opposite directions.

USC, riding a three-game winning streak after dropping five of its previous six games, improved to 10-9.

UNLV, meanwhile, lost for the fifth time in seven games to fall to 13-7, and its NCAA tournament hopes appear to be fading. This after beginning the season 11-2.

The distractions of playing in Las Vegas shoved aside, the Trojans, coming off an emotional 86-85 victory over UCLA on Wednesday, also had to worry about coming out flat against the Rebels.

In its last three nonconference games immediately after playing the Bruins, the Trojans had been beaten by an average of 29.7 points, including January's 99-61 rout by Pennsylvania.

Fears of USC coming out flat were realized ... for five minutes.

That's how long it took for UNLV to grab a 15-6 lead. The Rebels made their first six shots and frazzled the Trojans, who made two of their first seven, with full-court pressure in front of 13,143.

"We talked about letdowns," USC Coach Henry Bibby said. "This team [UNLV] scares me as much as any team in the country. There's no better guard in the country than Marcus Banks."

So the Trojans focused on disrupting Banks, a senior point guard who came into the game averaging 19.8 points, 5.5 assists and 3.2 steals.

With sophomore Derrick Craven drawing the primary defensive assignment, USC harassed Banks into eight turnovers to go with his eight points and 10 assists.

Late in the first half, Banks actually had more fouls (three) than points (one).

"We just wanted to put our best defensive player on him," said Trojan junior guard Desmon Farmer, who had a game-high 22 points on eight-for-21 shooting.

"We wanted to show that we have a good point guard too."

Craven, still learning the intricacies of running the point, had a career-high 17 points to go with his defensive effort. He made three of four shots from beyond the three-point arc.

"There was a lot of hype on Banks," said Craven, who had three steals. "At the end, he started to relax, but by then, the game was over."

Craven said the Trojans did not do anything special to diminish Banks' impact.

"We just knew his tendencies," he said.

While Craven earned the credit for slowing Banks, USC's offensive output was truly a team effort as five Trojans scored in double figures.

And with UNLV committing its most turnovers since 1995, the Trojans ran the Rebels ragged, outscoring them, 42-17, off turnovers.

Things got so bad for UNLV that the frustrated home crowd tossed water bottles onto the floor during a break midway through the second half and also booed the Rebels, giving a certain Pauley Pavilion feel to the game.

Still, the Rebels -- who were led by senior forward Jermaine Lewis' 14 points -- shot 62.8%, 43.8% from three-point territory.

The difference was that, largely because of the 34-14 disparity in turnovers, the Trojans attempted an astounding 31 more shots than UNLV, 74 to 43.

"Right now our momentum is up to par," Farmer said. "We're just going hard right now and we've got to keep it up."

Business as usual for the Trojans? More like business of late.

*

*--* Pac-10 Standings Conference All Games W L Pct W L Pct Arizona 10 1 909 18 2 900 California 9 2 818 16 4 800 Stanford 8 3 727 17 6 739 Arizona St 7 4 636 15 7 682 Oregon 6 5 545 16 6 727 USC 5 5 500 10 9 526 Oregon St 4 7 364 11 9 550 Washington 3 8 273 8 12 400 UCLA 2 8 200 5 14 263 Wash. St 0 11 000 5 15 250

*--*

Sunday's Results

* USC 98, Nevada Las Vegas 73

* Stanford 84, Oregon St. 73

Thursday's Schedule

* USC at Arizona St., 6:30 p.m.

* UCLA at Arizona, 7:30 p.m.

* Washington at Stanford, 7 p.m.

* Washington St. at California, 7 p.m.

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