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Gibson hopes to return to form

USC REPORT

December 04, 2007|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Taj Gibson slept in his own bed, ate a home-cooked meal and visited with family members he hadn't seen in a long time upon his return to Brooklyn early Monday morning.

His USC teammates hope the sophomore forward can also get back to his basketball roots after enduring what was easily the worst two-game stretch of his college career.

Gibson fouled out of games against Oklahoma and Kansas in which he averaged two points, four rebounds and only 17 minutes. The preseason Wooden Award candidate had averaged 11.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 32.8 minutes over USC's first six games.

"Coach [Tim] Floyd just said, 'Don't worry about it. Be mature and get ready for the next game,' " Gibson said. "That's what I plan on doing."

The No. 24-ranked Trojans figure to need 30-plus strong minutes tonight from Gibson against No. 2 Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.

While the Trojans overcame Gibson's prolonged absence during a win over Oklahoma, they foundered without their leading big man during a 59-55 loss against the Jayhawks on Sunday. USC was outrebounded by 12 and stagnated on offense.

"It was big for us that we couldn't play with Taj inside-out," Trojans sophomore guard Daniel Hackett said. "That was a big key of the game."

Floyd said tape of his team's last two games revealed that Gibson "just had some bad luck more than anything. . . . There are some [calls] that he'd like to have back and the officials would like to have back in retrospect."

When Gibson re-entered the games in foul trouble, Floyd said, he compounded his predicament by trying too hard.

"The tendency is, when you come back in you feel like you've got to hit it out of the park," Floyd said. "He's just got to relax and get back into the flow of the game and he'll be fine."

Gibson said he would make a point of talking to officials during tonight's game "to ask what I'm doing wrong and try to see what I can do to better myself and not get fouls called on me."

He will be playing for the first time at Madison Square Garden, the arena he idolized growing up. He said he "always dreamed about" competing on the same floor where as a child he watched former New York Knicks guard John Starks make a game-winning three-point shot.

"It's a dream come true for me," Gibson said, "but at the same time it's a business trip because we're trying to come out with a win."

Floyd never got a chance to know the late Jim Valvano, whom the Jimmy V Classic honors, though he did serve as an assistant under Don Haskins at Texas El Paso in 1985 when the Miners played North Carolina State in the second round of the NCAA tournament, two years after Valvano's N.C. State team won the national championship.

"I was an assistant and was probably too in awe to go visit and talk to a guy who had accomplished everything that he had accomplished at that point in his career," Floyd said of Valvano, whose Wolfpack defeated UTEP, 86-73, on the way to the Elite Eight.

"I always had a respect from afar for what he was able to do at N.C. State, and I always enjoyed his sense of humor, his personality and the passion and enthusiasm he brought. He was really great for the game of basketball."

Mindful that his team would be playing its third game in a six-day stretch tonight, Floyd limited practice to one hour Monday.

"We're aware [fatigue] could be a potential problem given the travel in addition to three games in [six] days," Floyd said. "But we will not use that as an excuse. The biggest obstacle we have is Memphis and their talent."

The Tigers are coming off a six-day layoff and have played two games this season at Madison Square Garden, where they defeated Oklahoma and Connecticut in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic.

--

TONIGHT

vs. Memphis, 6 PST, ESPN

Site -- Madison Square Garden.

Radio -- 710.

Records -- Memphis 6-0, USC 6-2.

Update -- Floyd said Memphis utilizes dribble drives and spreads the floor to pressure opponents. The Tigers also utilize a menacing full-court press that USC has not seen this season. Junior guard Chris Douglas-Roberts averages 21.8 points and freshman guard Derrick Rose 17 for Memphis.

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ben.bolch@latimes.com

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