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WASHINGTON 60, USC 51

Huskies stay on top by beating Trojans

USC's tournament chances take a hit with loss to Washington.

February 22, 2009|Chris Foster

The body language, and foreign language, said it all Saturday.

USC's Taj Gibson sat slumped in his chair, staring upward as if to count ceiling tiles or seek guidance. Daniel Hackett, a junior guard, was on the other side of the locker room, arguing with his father, Rudy Hackett, in Italian.

Those were the telltale signs of some loss of heart after Washington's 60-51 victory at the Galen Center that assured the Huskies would remain in sole possession of first place in the Pacific 10 Conference.

What it meant for the Trojans (16-10, 7-7) was considerably more muddled. They were outscored 14-1 in the final 5:43, losing for the fourth time in five games, and may be peering at NCAA tournament hopes through rose-colored glasses.

That fallout was a tense locker room, where the media was thrown out by team personnel as Hackett and his father, the team's strength and conditioning manager, continued to argue -- in English.

Daniel Hackett was unhappy with a reporter, though his father told him to "let it go." Rudy Hackett, meanwhile, had already expressed himself loudly about an upcoming ESPN special dealing with NCAA concerns about package deals -- the hiring of a relative or a close associate to help land a recruit.

Coach Tim Floyd attempted to defuse the issue Thursday, saying, "We have done nothing wrong."

But Hackett -- hired a year before his son came to USC -- addressed it a little more harshly, saying, "If I could go into a courtroom with ESPN, I would. They have no right to say that stuff. That's defamation of character. Does that mean [former LSU coach] Press Maravich couldn't have Pete Maravich come play for him?"

The mood was the offshoot of a game in which the Trojans played hard, but the Huskies played harder, especially down the stretch. At one point late in the game, five players dived for a loose ball. Four were from Washington.

"They play very tough basketball," USC guard Dwight Lewis said.

It seemed to be the Trojans' game for the taking. Even Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar said, "I am astounded that we found a way to win."

The Huskies (20-7, 11-4) shot a pitiful 37%. They were held under 70 points for only the third time this season. Their top three scorers -- Jon Brockman, Isaiah Thomas and Justin Dentmon -- made only six of 25 shots from the field and scored 18 points.

But the Huskies won because everything they did offensively, the Trojans did as badly or worse. The Trojans shot 38%, with Lewis making only four of 15 shots.

"We stunk it up on offense," Daniel Hackett said. "I wish I could tell you what was wrong. We needed better ball movement, better screening, better passing. I don't know, but we've got to figure it out."

Washington had one player with a clue during the game. Junior forward Quincy Pondexter scored 14 of the Huskies' last 20 points, and made 10 of 13 shots.

With the Trojans sixth in the Pac-10, Floyd was trying to pump up the conference's image.

"What the national media has failed to recognize is that teams that were not projected to be good are outstanding teams, California, Washington," Floyd said. "Everyone talked about the demise of Arizona and that team has won 16-17 games."

As to what it will take to get an at-large bid, Floyd said, "I have no idea. I don't play the speculation game."

His players lacked opinions as well.

"I'm not one of the guys who select the 65 teams," Hackett said. "We've got to get to the next practice and make something happen on the road."

If the Trojans don't, it might be arrivederci.

--

chris.foster@latimes.com

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