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PACIFIC 10 CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT | Helene Elliott

USC gets a sinking feeling

Trojans' spirit doused by Taylor's outpouring

March 11, 2007|Helene Elliott

If USC was embarrassed while being steamrollered by Oregon in the championship game of the Pacific Life Pac-10 tournament, as Nick Young insisted, most of the Trojans hid it well.

Their faces blank and body language passive, the Trojans were overrun by a team they had defeated twice this season. They were powerless to stop Bryce Taylor's tournament-record 11-for-11 shooting performance and game-high 32 points in the Ducks' 81-57 rout.

Young alone allowed himself a small display of emotion after USC squandered an opportunity to take another significant step forward in a season marked by so much progress: Watching from the bench, he buried his face in his hands, threw back his head and moaned after Taylor hit the last of three successive Oregon three-point shots midway through the second half and gave the Ducks a 67-32 lead.

If Young had known that 35 wouldn't be the Trojans' biggest deficit -- the Ducks doubled them up, 78-39, with 6:51 to play -- he might have outright sobbed.

Whether because of fatigue after a quick turnaround from their semifinal victory on Friday or from the shock of experiencing so much going so wrong on Saturday, the rest of the Trojans lacked the energy to muster so much as a grimace. Young said they brought emotion and purpose with them to Staples Center, but they vanished in the face of Oregon's 51.9% shooting and 43-26 rebounding edge.

"We were fired up coming into the game," Young said. "They just came out more aggressive. They just played better."

It's not like Young hadn't seen Taylor's exploits before. The two juniors are friends from their high school days, Young at Reseda's Cleveland High and Taylor at Harvard Westlake.

But to have Taylor enjoy the game of a lifetime at the expense of USC -- and maybe rattle the Trojans' confidence a few days before the NCAA tournament -- was more than Young could take without wincing.

"Bryce is a great player and a good friend of mine," Young said. "Tonight was just his night.

"We have to forget about this. It's better to get blown out than lose by one, in my opinion. If we were down and they made one shot to win the game, that would hurt a lot more. We've got time to settle down now."

The Trojans, so solid a defensive team most of this season, never settled into a rhythm and never got their footing Saturday. The Ducks wouldn't let them.

"Hopefully they played above their level," Trojans Coach Tim Floyd said, "and I think that we played below our level."

Taylor, son of former San Diego Clipper Brian Taylor, played well above his 14.6-point average. Young certainly played below his team-leading 17.5-point average.

That was as Taylor had predicted during a conversation he had with Young on Friday night, after Oregon had defeated Cal in its semifinal and USC defeated Washington State.

"He said he was going to have 26, but I told him I was going to hold him to 10, and that's what happened," Taylor said, smiling.

Usually, Taylor said, his predictions are off. "He busted me up in Oregon. He hit the game winning shot," Taylor said of an 84-82 victory by USC on Jan. 4. "He's tough to guard. But I just try to be physical with him, get in his head a little bit, because I kind of know when he's going to get his shot. He starts running much harder so I know I need to run harder too."

Taylor said that Young is probably the only opponent he would consider chatting with before a game of such magnitude.

"We talk a lot and we try to keep each other informed of what's going on in each other's lives. It's fun," Taylor said.

They weren't guarding each other Saturday, but they had a few chances to continue their dialogue. Most of it was initiated by Taylor.

"He's more serious," Taylor said. "I tell him I'm not going to let him score, that he's not going to score anymore. I say, 'This is the last shot you're going to make, the last shot you're going to get.' It's fun just to be able to get out there and be loose and play.

"He's a great player and he's had a great year. He's probably going to be a first-rounder in the NBA draft. I'm just real happy for him, to see all the success he's had.

"It was just my time to shine tonight."

Taylor seized the moment. He said some of his inspiration stemmed from having seen his favorite player, Gilbert Arenas of Van Nuys Grant High, score 60 points for the Washington Wizards against the Lakers on Dec. 17 at Staples Center.

"That was in the back of my mind, if I could just get a little bit of that, that could be fun," Taylor said.

It was pure joy when he cut the net down on Saturday. "It's the first time I'm ever going to get a ring," he said. "It's one of those things, what you come and play college basketball for."

His championship came at Young's expense, and Young won't forget it.

"You feel like you let a lot of people down," he said. "But it's something that's going to get me motivated going into the NCAA tournament."

For USC, it's once more, with feeling. Or so they hope.

*

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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