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USC REPORT

Trojans look all grown up

January 21, 2008|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Given the composition of its starting lineup -- three sophomores and two freshmen -- there were bound to be times this season when USC succumbed to more experienced teams in the final minutes of close games.

The Trojans found themselves in a four-point game against Kansas with nearly two minutes to play and couldn't pull it out. They were even with Memphis with 5.9 seconds left in regulation before losing in overtime.

Yet, given the composition of its starting lineup -- five superb talents -- USC also figured to eventually come together the way it did Saturday at Pauley Pavilion during a stunning 72-63 victory over fourth-ranked UCLA.

The Trojans held the Bruins scoreless over the final 2 minutes 4 seconds while USC freshman forward Davon Jefferson single-handedly poured in eight points in the final 1:10. Forward Taj Gibson blocked a Darren Collison layup and the Trojans later confounded Collison such that he elevated in an attempt to draw contact before throwing the ball out of bounds.

When the final horn sounded on the Trojans' first victory at Pauley Pavilion since 2004, freshman guard O.J. Mayo hurled the ball skyward before teammate Daniel Hackett jumped into his arms in triumph.

"Just know that we're here and we're not going anywhere," Mayo said afterward in a jubilant locker room. "We started off 0-3 and got Washington at home and came into Pauley Pavilion into a hostile environment and got another win.

"We're young but we've been preaching all year that we're going to get better."

It was only a matter of team.

USC always possessed the talent, had the pieces to do big things; it was just a matter of pulling those pieces together into a cohesive unit.

On Saturday the Trojans executed Coach Tim Floyd's plan to near-perfection, juggling a variety of defenses and a push-the-pace offense that at times left the Bruins flat-footed.

"We were just saying we've got to beat them down the court, just get defensive rebounds, kick and push it up," Gibson said. "When Texas beat them, Texas outran them the whole game."

Defensively, the Trojans utilized a mix of man-to-man, zone and triangle-and-two sets that emphasized protection of the paint while almost daring players such as Alfred Aboya, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and James Keefe to shoot from the perimeter. The trio went a collective three for 14 from the field for the Bruins, emblematic of a team that shot 33.3%.

"We just locked in on defense and just executed on offense, so it was a great win for us," Jefferson said following his 25-point, nine-rebound performance.

Where do the Trojans go from here in the Pacific 10 Conference?

Up, presumably.

USC (11-6 overall, 2-3 Pac-10) plays at last-place Oregon State on Thursday before invading the always inhospitable McArthur Court to play Oregon on Saturday. The Trojans are 4-0 on the road against the Oregon schools under Floyd but realize that there are no guarantees for a team still finding its way.

"We're a young team, and how we handle this will be important," Floyd said. "We can't go celebrate, we've got to get ready to go play again on the road. . . . Young teams sometimes can get unrealistic after a win, and that's our challenge now. Let's go back and get ready to go compete again."

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ben.bolch@latimes.com

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