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USC outlasts California

Trojans stay within striking distance of the Pac-10 leaders.

February 01, 2009|Chris Foster

This is how it stacks up for USC's basketball team:

The Trojans will spend nearly all of February on the road, playing five of their next seven games away from home, chasing Pacific 10 co-leaders UCLA and Washington as a team positioned to grab the conference title.

"The conference is wide open right now," said forward DeMar DeRozan, who scored a game-high 19 points Saturday in a 73-62 win over California at the Galen Center. "We can't afford to lose any home games. We can't afford to lose any games, period."

The Trojans didn't lose, as they smothered Cal. The win left USC (15-6, 6-3) one game behind first-place UCLA and Washington.

That the Trojans are among the conference's chosen few is a result of three consecutive victories against hoped-to-be contenders -- Washington State, Stanford and Cal, three teams now left wallowing on the conference's wanna-be level.

USC can improve its status Wednesday, when it plays UCLA at Pauley Pavilion.

"All those teams are 5-4 and we're 6-3," guard Daniel Hackett said. "It's getting interesting."

USC made it interesting Saturday, as has often been the case.

This has become a familiar scenario for the Trojans, as repetitive as the USC band. They had a limited attention span in the first half, taking an early lead, then giving it back. Then they appeared to lose their grasp on things, falling behind in the second half.

All this was according to the season-long script. The difference Saturday was, the Trojans didn't have to scrap and claw to get the win but slowly pulled away in the last eight minutes.

"We're going on the road the next two weeks, so we had to have this game," DeRozan said.

It was growth game for DeRozan, who made eight of 12 shots. He also clamped down on California's Theo Robertson, who came into the game shooting 57% from three-point range. With DeRozan draped all over him, Robertson finished with four points, missing his only three-point attempt. The Bears came into the game leading the nation in three-point shooting at 47.6% but made only two of 16 from long range.

"That was all effort," USC Coach Tim Floyd said. "[The threes were] our biggest fear because we couldn't guard California's offense in practice yesterday. We were very concerned."

The victory closed out a hectic week for the Trojans, who had to battle the elements, or rather the leftover effects of the elements. USC returned from frozen eastern Washington with souvenirs -- Taj Gibson had pneumonia, Hackett a severe case of flu.

Both felt better Saturday. Gibson had 12 points and 13 rebounds. Hackett scored 14.

A 9-2 run allowed Cal (16-6, 5-4) to open a 44-39 lead with 13 minutes left. But the Trojans had been through this before in their previous three victories. They trailed Stanford by six with 13 minutes left, Washington State by eight with seven minutes left and Arizona by six with six minutes to play.

USC once again found ways to take the victory.

Hackett drove to the hoop, found arms and elbows at the rim, and put in a difficult reverse layup. Nikola Vucevic put back a rebound while falling down. Marcus Johnson bulled his way to the rim for a layup. Hackett rolled in a short shot with a California player holding on to his forearm. Gibson tapped in a missed free throw over Jordan Wilkes, Cal's 7-foot center.

"Earlier in the year, we were losing games like this because we didn't take care of the ball," Floyd said. "We have learned how to win games and where to win games."


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