Typically an inhospitable environment even for college basketball's elite, the road has served as a refuge for USC this season during its most trying moments.
It is where the Trojans forged ahead after an 0-2 start by holding a players-only meeting that, according to junior guard Lodrick Stewart, "saved our season." It is where the Trojans buried the memory of a humiliating 21-point loss to UCLA by sweeping Oregon and Oregon State for the first time in nine years.
And it is where the Trojans will try to regroup after learning they had possibly lost sophomore guard Gabe Pruitt, their second-leading scorer, for the rest of the season because of a fracture in his left knee.
"That's a big loss," said sophomore swingman Nick Young, one of only two remaining Trojans to average double figures in scoring. "I've never played without him for a year and a half, so it's tough. When I'm down I can always rely on Gabe, so it's going to be hard."
Coach Tim Floyd said freshman shooting guard Sead Odzic probably would replace Pruitt in the starting lineup tonight when USC, 15-7 overall and 6-5 in the Pacific 10 Conference, plays No. 21 Washington (16-5, 5-5) in Seattle.
But it will probably require the collective effort of several players to make up for the production of a player averaging 17.0 points and ranked first in the Pac-10 in three-point field-goals made (2.68 per game) and second in steals (2.27).
"There's no way anyone can match what Gabe brought to the table, but I just have to stay solid, play good defense and know my assignment," said Odzic, averaging 3.1 points in 13.9 minutes. "I'm sure I'm not going to score what he scores, but I'm definitely going to take my shots and just be one of the parts to pick it up."
Not having to guard a player who accounted for 24.4% of the Trojans' scoring will simplify the defensive task for the Huskies, who would pass USC in the conference standings with a victory.
"That will put a lot of weight on me and Nick's shoulders," said Stewart, the only Trojan besides Young to average double figures in scoring. "It will be easier for UW to key on both of us if we don't have that three-guard rotation out there."
One option for the Trojans would be to try the Kobe Bryant approach, with Young taking 20 or so shots per game. A more likely scenario would involve incorporating a wider variety of players such as Odzic, Dwayne Shackleford and Keith Wilkinson.
"I'm trying to pass the ball more to my open teammates and get them confidence to shoot the ball," Young said. "I need Ryan Francis, Sead Odzic, Keith, Lod, all of them to step up."
Hitting the road, where the Trojans are 5-2, could be the salvation they need to pull together.
"I think we play better on the road because we're all together and we see each other 24/7," Odzic said. "It just shows on the court."
at Washington, 7:30, FSN West 2
Site--Bank of America Arena, Seattle.
Records--USC 15-7 overall, 6-5 in Pacific 10 Conference; Washington 16-5, 5-5.
Update--Washington leads the nation by averaging 83.9 points a game. But the Huskies have averaged only 66.7 points during a three-game losing streak. Floyd said his biggest concern was his team's ability to match up with one of the best rebounding teams in the Pac-10.