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USC gets a sinking feeling

Oregon drains shot after shot, including 11 of 11 by Taylor, in 81-57 title-game blowout. Trojans only hope it won't mean a lower NCAA seeding.

March 11, 2007|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

They will gather on their home court this afternoon, wounded and yet grateful that their season has been placed on pause instead of stop.

There is more basketball to be played for USC, even though the third-seeded Trojans were spit out like a videotape inserted into a faulty VCR on Saturday at Staples Center during an 81-57 loss to fourth-seeded Oregon in the championship game of the Pacific Life Pac-10 tournament.

"I know that we won't watch any film on this game," USC Coach Tim Floyd said after his team suffered the second-most lopsided defeat in a Pac-10 title game. "No reason."

There's no reason for the Trojans to relive a game they closed on an 18-3 run ... and still lost by 24 points. And there's no reason for them to see one more basketball leaving the hands of Bryce Taylor, the Ducks' junior guard who set a Pac-10 tournament record by making all 11 of his shots on the way to a career-high 32 points.

When Taylor opened the second half by making two of his seven three-point baskets and scoring eight consecutive points, USC freshman guard Dwight Lewis told him, "You guys really came to play today."

Taylor's response?

"Yep. And we're going to keep doing it."

Oregon (26-7), which won its second conference tournament title and first since beating USC in the 2003 final, soon splurged for a 22-2 run and eventually built leads as large as 39 points before Coach Ernie Kent pulled tournament most valuable player Tajuan Porter (16 points) and the rest of his starters in the final seven minutes.

It was an inspired effort by a team that had lost twice to the Trojans (23-11) during the regular season, including a particularly stinging 84-82 defeat Jan. 4 in Eugene that knocked the Ducks from the ranks of the unbeaten after 13 consecutive victories to open the season.

"They're playing at a different level right now," Floyd said of Oregon, which shot 53.6% to USC's 37.7% and outrebounded the Trojans, 43-26. "They beat us in all phases of the game."

The Trojans actually started the game the way they wanted, taking a 7-2 lead after junior guard Gabe Pruitt made a steal and fed freshman forward Taj Gibson for a dunk. But Oregon clogged the passing lanes and seemingly made every shot during a 19-2 run that put the Ducks ahead to stay.

"It was embarrassing," said USC junior swingman Nick Young, who had only 10 points on a day that had started so promisingly when he commandeered the locker of his hero, Lakers star Kobe Bryant. "They came out playing with more intensity and we kind of let shot-making get to us a little bit."

Pruitt also had a disappointing performance, scoring six points on two-for-12 shooting one day after scoring 26 points and making six of seven three-point shots against Washington State.

"Oregon kind of got into the passing lanes and kind of got into you, so I kind of altered my shot a little bit," Pruitt said. "I think that's what bothered me."

The Trojans figure to have a more positive experience this afternoon when they convene at the Galen Center to learn where they are headed for the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Or maybe not, Floyd joked, if the selection committee watched the game.

"If they watched today, it might be a 16 [seed]," he said.

All kidding aside, the coach said his team deserved a seeding as good as or better than that of any other third-place team from a major conference because the Trojans played a rigorous 18-game conference schedule that is longer than those of most other teams. USC also played its first 11 games without Pruitt, one of the best players in the Pac-10.

But whether USC finds itself en route to Spokane, Wash., or Buffalo, N.Y., or anywhere in between, the players said their mere presence in the NCAA tournament should be hailed as a triumph.

"When we hear our name called, we're going to cheer. We're celebrating," senior guard Lodrick Stewart said. "We're fortunate. We still get to play in the NCAA tournament. Our season's not over."


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