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PAC-10 NOTES

UCLA, USC are rest assured

March 14, 2008|David Wharton and Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writers

Most Southern California basketball fans were stuck at work or in school when UCLA and USC played their daytime quarterfinal games at the Pacific 10 Conference tournament on Thursday.

But conference officials were thinking about more than prime-time television ratings when they drew up the schedule -- they wanted to give the higher-seeded teams more time between games.

"You set it up in advance, before you know which teams are going to be which seeds," Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen said. "That's just the way it is."

By playing in the 2:30 p.m. slot, top-seeded UCLA has more than 24 hours to recoup before the 6 p.m. semifinal game against USC tonight.

The Bruins could have received an even bigger cushion by playing at noon, but that would have been unfair to their opponent, California, who reached the quarterfinals by winning the previous night.

So the prime spot fell to fourth-seeded USC, which got the best deal in terms of rest and relaxation.

Second-seeded Stanford, placed at the other end of the bracket, drew the late game both nights and should have about 22 hours between.

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Much has been made of the topsy-turvy coaching situation at Arizona this season.

Shortly before this season's games began, longtime coach Lute Olson took a leave of absence. He was replaced by his anointed successor, Kevin O'Neill.

Then, with the Wildcats scrambling for a spot in the NCAA tournament, it was announced that Olson would return after the season.

While fans and the media wonder if all this has been a distraction, the players insist they remain focused.

"I'm glad he's coming back, but right now I'm not thinking about it," forward Chase Budinger said. "It doesn't really affect this team."

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USC freshman guard O.J. Mayo wore protective padding underneath his jersey during the Trojans' 59-55 quarterfinal victory over Arizona State, though it was not as a result of an injury.

"It's an impact shirt that football players wear a lot and softens the blow if someone's going to hit them," Trojans trainer Bobby Walls said. "It helps protect him so he doesn't get bruised."

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USC outrebounded a seventh consecutive opponent, a notable achievement for a team that was outrebounded in 11 of its first 12 Pac-10 games.

Forwards Davon Jefferson and Taj Gibson had nine rebounds apiece for USC, which outrebounded Arizona State, 36-26.

"Those two guys getting nine boards was as big as any stat in the game," Trojans Coach Tim Floyd said.

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UCLA players are not willing to say the Bruins are guaranteed a No. 1 NCAA seeding.

"We've got to do more," point guard Darren Collison said. "We know how the [NCAA selection] committee is. We were supposed to get a No. 1 seed last year, too, and we ended up with a No. 2."

Last season, the Bruins lost the last game of the regular season to Washington and their quarterfinal league tournament game to Cal.

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Josh Shipp said it was easy to figure out why UCLA lost to USC at Pauley Pavilion but beat the Trojans at the Galen Center.

"In the loss, our transition defense was terrible," he said. "In the second game we really focused on that."

Part of the reason for the defensive lapses in the first game, Collison said, was because Luc Richard Mbah a Moute missed all but a minute of the second half with a concussion. "He can block shots, he gets in the passing lane, he baits the passing lanes," Collison said. "When Luc is on you, it's going to be real tough to score."

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david.wharton@latimes.com

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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