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USC BASKETBALL

Trojans begin rebuilding effort by beating Washington State, 61-51

They win their first game in nearly three weeks, but are forced to scramble after leading by as much as 14 in second half.

February 20, 2009|Chris Foster

USC remains king of the second division. Now the Trojans will go about upgrading their status in the Pacific 10 Conference.

The 61-51 victory over seventh-place Washington State at the Galen Center on Thursday was another trip to the dentist, but it is now behind the sixth-place Trojans. Now they can set about sinking their teeth into first-place Washington on Saturday.

USC, 16-9 overall and 7-6 in the conference, prepared by winning its first game in nearly three weeks. Dwight Lewis scored 17 points and Taj Gibson had 16, as the Trojans built a 14-point second-half lead, then scrambled down the stretch to put away the seventh-place Cougars.

"We needed that game," guard Daniel Hackett said. "It does a lot to build our confidence. Washington State is a team that can cause a lot of trouble. But the energy was there."

While USC was rebuilding its competitive fire, Coach Tim Floyd tried to douse a blaze. ESPN's "Outside the Lines" will air a program on so-called "package deals," the hiring of someone related or who has a close relationship to the player to get the recruit.

The show will include a segment on Hackett, whose father, Rudy, is the Trojans' strength and conditioning manager. Rudy Hackett was hired in 2005, a year before his son enrolled at USC. Daniel Hackett is not on scholarship, but he receives free tuition because his father is an employee of the university.

"I didn't come here to be with my dad, I came here to play for Coach Floyd," Hackett said.

Floyd reacted strongly to the idea he brought in Rudy Hackett to land his son.

"That bridge was crossed three years ago, with the NCAA, with the Pac-10, with our compliance office," Floyd said. "We have not done one thing wrong.

"As far as Rudy Hackett being at this university, he was here a year before Daniel Hackett got here, and he is far more qualified than 95% of the assistant coaches in America. He played in the NBA, he played on a Final Four team at Syracuse, coached and played in Italy. He was highly recommended by the No. 1 AAU team in Southern California.

"If you are going to be the coach at USC, you better have a relationship with the coach of the Southern California All-Stars, Pat Barrett, who recommended [Hackett]. I hired him and I'm very glad we did."

There were times Thursday the Trojans showed some of that vim and vigor on the court.

USC held Washington State scoreless for nearly eight minutes in the first half, building a 21-6 lead. The Cougars scrapped back to within eight, 29-21, by halftime.

The Trojans went up, 38-24 four minutes into the second half, then saw the Cougars (13-13, 5-9) pull to within one, 45-44, and have a chance to take the lead before turning the ball over.

Lewis scored seven of the Trojans' last nine points to help them pull away.

USC finished with an edge in all the numbers, including rebounding (39-27). Washington State shot 36.5% from the field and made only two of 18 three-pointers.

"That's a scary team," Floyd said. "They don't beat themselves. You don't see them get beat by 10 points very often."

The win may not have given USC's NCAA tournament hopes a significant boost, but it was a step in the right direction. It left the Trojans one game behind fifth-place Arizona.

"We needed that," Gibson said. "Three weeks is too long between victories."

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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Up next

VS. WASHINGTON

Saturday, 4 p.m., Galen Center, Prime Ticket: A victory over the Pacific 10 Conference-leading Huskies would do a lot for the Trojans' NCAA tournament credibility. But the Huskies' micro-guards gave USC fits in a 78-73 loss in Seattle.

-- Chris Foster

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