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USC REPORT

Pruitt's Hard Driving Is Paying Off on the Road

January 31, 2006|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

There's no telling how far Gabe Pruitt can take USC as the Trojans' designated driver.

Content for too long to simply hoist jump shot after jump shot, the sophomore guard has recently placed a new emphasis on slashing toward the basket.

"I'm trying to be more of a driver," he said. "That's something I've been working on."

The results were impressive last week as Pruitt helped lead USC to its first road sweep of the Oregon schools since the 1996-97 season.

Pruitt drove for a coast-to-coast layup and later drove into the lane for another easy basket Thursday during the Trojans' 72-70 overtime victory against Oregon State. He drove into the paint and repeatedly drew fouls Saturday against Oregon to help the Trojans pull out an 84-78 victory.

Pruitt scored 30 points against the Ducks, making eight of 12 shots and eight of 12 free throws.

"That's probably the next phase in him becoming the player that he wants to become, is having the ability to get himself to the line," Coach Tim Floyd said. "He's going to score more points if he gets to the line because guys who score get fouled."

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With at least 10 games remaining before Selection Sunday, the Trojans (14-6 overall, 5-4 in the Pacific 10 Conference) appear within reach of a 20-victory season, though that wouldn't necessarily guarantee them a bid to the NCAA tournament.

Among the factors working against USC: one of its victories was over Alaska Anchorage, an NCAA Division II team; the Pac-10 is having a down year; and the Trojans have a Ratings Percentage Index rating of 93, according to at least one website that tries to approximate the index used by the NCAA.

The NCAA will release its official RPI ratings Thursday.

"We're a long way from talking along those lines," Floyd said of a NCAA tournament berth. "We have the type of team that if we're not careful, we can lose every game in the second half [of Pac-10 play] because we didn't dominate anybody in the first half and we don't rebound the ball well enough to talk about any type of dominance with our team.

"But we're going to approach every game as if we can win it and then let the experts decide our fate at the end of the year."

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Former USC guard Derrick Craven said he was impressed by the cohesiveness of this year's team, an ingredient that he said was missing when he played for the Trojans from 2002-05.

"We weren't playing as a team," Craven said Monday outside Heritage Hall. "Mentally, we weren't a team. We weren't socially a team. That definitely derailed our goals.

"I'm really proud of the team right now. It seems like they're more focused and more goal-oriented. There's a lot of details they've covered and they've focused more on defense.

"It seems like a different team."

Craven, who played in the British Basketball League until last month, is applying to be accepted into a master's program in athletic administration at USC.

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