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Heroic Victory for the Trojans

Curtis' basket forces overtime, then the team steps up in a 93-84 win over Sun Devils.

February 15, 2004|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

TEMPE, Ariz. — A jubilant Desmon Farmer bounded through the backstage hallways of Wells Fargo Arena, his smile brighter than the walls his screams were echoing off.

"Nick Curtis is the hero," Farmer yelled in ecstasy. "Nick Curtis is the hero, baby."

True, Curtis' clutch put-back basket out of a wild scrum in the final minute of regulation Saturday night enabled USC to force overtime against Arizona State. But from that point several Trojans stepped up in their slump-busting 93-84 defeat of the Sun Devils before a crowd of 8,301.

There was Errick Craven, who returned to the starting lineup and led USC with a season-high 26 points, three off the career high he set as a freshman.

There were forwards Gregg Guenther and Jeff McMillan, who each had double-doubles -- Guenther's second of the season, with 10 points and a career-high 13 rebounds, McMillan's sixth, with 15 points and 11 rebounds -- against Arizona State All-American Ike Diogu, who ended up fouling out.

There was freshman guard Lodrick Stewart, who stewed on the bench before having an impact in overtime with a three-point basket.

And there was Farmer, who struggled with his shooting but found it in time to finish with 25 points. He also had to play point guard after USC's main ball-handlers were knocked out of the game.

"This was big," Trojan Coach Henry Bibby said. "The guys had character. They were unselfish. They played defense.

"We did exactly what we wanted to do."

And because of that, USC (10-12, 5-8 Pacific 10) ended a three-game losing streak and a stretch in which it had lost six of seven.

With five games remaining in conference play, the Trojans are in a tie with Washington State for seventh place but would be seeded eighth in the eight-team Pac-10 tournament because of tiebreakers.

USC gave itself breathing room against last-place Arizona State (3-10, 9-13), which had beaten the Trojans, 100-85, on Jan. 17 at the Sports Arena.

"It's the biggest win of the year," said Curtis, whose only field goal tied the score at 74 with 21.5 seconds remaining in regulation.

"Yeah, it was crucial. I tipped it the first time, but it went too high. And then somebody else shot it and I got it and went up with it again. I was just trying to make it. I knew they weren't going to call a foul at that point of the game."

Still, had Arizona State been able to convert on its ensuing inbounds play, USC would have been a team of goats rather than heroes. The Trojans had blown a 50-38 lead with 15:31 to play.

Diogu, who led Arizona State with 19 points and nine rebounds, picked up his third and fourth fouls before the second half was four minutes old.

But USC's hopes seemed to wither when freshman point guard Rodrick Stewart had to be helped off the court after taking a charge and did not return. He was not diagnosed with a concussion but suffered a headache, blurred vision in his left eye and a cut under his upper lip.

The Sun Devils took the lead, 68-67, on a Diogu basket with 3:40 left.

When Derrick Craven fouled out with 1:05 to play, point guard duties fell to Errick, until he too picked up a fifth foul, 12 seconds into overtime.

Diogu then fouled out with 3:44 remaining in overtime and USC leading by two.

Enter Lodrick Stewart, whose three-point basket from the top of the arc with 1:26 to play extended the Trojan lead to 82-77, and Farmer, who scored 10 of USC's 19 overtime points, making eight of 10 from the free-throw line.

"I felt comfortable out there," said Farmer, who also had four assists in 44 minutes. "I feel I'm a good ball-handler and I didn't try to do too much, just keep it basic."

Basic enough for the Trojans to scream in joyful relief.

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