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Trojans defend their home-court advantage

Only UCLA has lost fewer home games than the Trojans among Pac-10 teams since the Galen Center was built.

February 21, 2009|Chris Foster

The Galen Center has often been the failin' center for opposing teams. The reason why is a head scratcher.

The three-year-old arena isn't smack-dab in nowheres-ville (ever been to Pullman, Wash.?). Fans are occasionally loud, but are hardly vicious (ask former UCLA forward Kevin Love about Oregon). It lacks the oppressive mystique (having a banner season is defined differently at UCLA).

Yet only UCLA has lost fewer home games than the Trojans among Pacific 10 Conference teams since the Galen Center was built. That, in part, is what the Trojans (16-9 overall, 7-6 in conference play) bank on as they try to earn an NCAA tournament bid.

USC faces first-place Washington (19-7, 10-4) at the Galen Center today, and has two more home games left.

"It's important to defend our home," forward Taj Gibson said. "This is our house."

It has been, even if lacks the formidable aura other conference teams enjoy.

USC is 13-1 at home this season and 38-9 in the Galen Center. Only UCLA (45-3) and Stanford (39-9) have better home records among conference teams in that time. Of those nine losses, three have been to the Bruins, who have reached the Final Four the last three seasons, and one was to Kansas last season, when the Jayhawks won the national title. Fear, though, wasn't installed in the state-of-the-art facility.

At Oregon, there is McArthur Court, where opposing players are close enough to feel the hot breath of fans who were exceptionally hostile when UCLA and Love, an Oregon native, came to town last season.

Out in Pullman, it's a trek just to get to town and play the Cougars. The Trojans nearly missed tipoff a year ago as a snow storm slowed their progress from Spokane.

On the other side of Los Angeles, Bruins fans have a sense of entitlement sitting under 11 national title banners at Pauley Pavilion. In Tucson, fan fervor crosses the generation gap when rooting for Arizona, as senior citizens are as likely to berate officials as students.

And at the Galen Center? Well, there was an announced crowd of 6,352 for the Trojans' victory over Washington State on Thursday. The only thing more off than the in-house attendance count was the Cougars' three-point shooting; they were two of 18. The student section was half full and only a portion of the band showed up.

Yet the Trojans won, 61-51, ending a three-game losing streak.

"We probably ought to win more, but maybe it's the economy too," USC Coach Tim Floyd said about the attendance. "We lost three in a row. You have to earn those things."

Still, Floyd contends, "Our crowds can be pretty rambunctious."

The atmosphere is less than oppressive and the arena, which still has that new-car smell, offers no hardships. (The visiting locker room at McArthur Court could double for a sauna.) But the Trojans win.

"For the most part we've been able establish our defense, and with our style of play, it can be hard on visiting teams," guard Daniel Hackett said.

Arizona is the only opponent to shoot better than 50% at the Galen Center this season. USC has held eight teams under 40%, including No. 20 UCLA and No. 14 Arizona State.

"We have been a good defensive team," Floyd said. "When you play good defensive teams on the road, it can be difficult."

And there might be one more reason for the Trojans' home-court success.

"Hey, we're in downtown L.A., the bright lights, big city," forward Keith Wilkinson said. "Maybe teams get starry-eyed when they see that."

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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