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USC cools talk; only Daniel Hackett, Dwight Lewis speak to media

Coach Tim Floyd keeps media out of practice. He puts a muzzle on his players until after practice, when he allows Hackett and Lewis to talk about their heated exchange after Saturday's loss.

February 24, 2009|Chris Foster

A muzzle was firmly attached to USC guard Daniel Hackett. Media were banned from practice. Even team managers were throwing out "no comments."

The Trojans' basketball team had seen better days.

The fallout from Saturday's 61-50 loss to Washington, and the tense locker room afterward, lingered at the Galen Center on Monday. Fragile seemed the status quo, as the Trojans prepared for a pivotal weekend in the Bay Area. USC faces California on Thursday and Stanford on Saturday.

By the time practice finished Monday, there was an attempt to return to normality. Hackett was free to talk -- though he and teammate Dwight Lewis were the only ones sanctioned to do so -- and Coach Tim Floyd said the media ban on practice would be lifted.

"All I know is we're going to play every game as if it is the most important game," Floyd said of this week's trip. As for the team's NCAA tournament chances, Floyd added, "We're going take it a game at a time."

That coach-speak followed a weekend that required some Dr. Phil-style healing, centering on an altercation between Hackett and Lewis after the Washington game. The two got into a heated argument after a fan -- and friend of Lewis' -- had exchanged words with Hackett. Both players said it did not lead to a physical confrontation.

USC moved to plug that breach Monday, with Floyd saying: "It was juvenile behavior between two players. They'll learn from it and be better people as the result of this." He drove that point home with an extra hour of workouts for the two after practice Monday.

Floyd had met with both players for what he called a "teachable" moment. Hackett and Lewis seemed to learn the lesson well, as they mimicked Floyd's words, nearly to the last comma.

"It had nothing to do with the game," Hackett said. "It was very immature. . . . Emotion took over a little bit; the frustration took over a little bit. We exchanged a couple words."

The more reserved Lewis said: "It was from the loss we had, the individual performances. We're ready to move on."

To where?

The Trojans have four games left, plus the Pacific 10 Conference tournament, to convince the NCAA tournament selection committee of their worth. The Trojans will need to shake off a tumultuous few days that led up to the heated exchange between Hackett and Lewis. But how the other team members were reacting was unclear.

"Coach Floyd said we can't talk," Taj Gibson said as he passed reporters Monday.

The weekend's upheaval -- which included Hackett and his father, Rudy, being part of an ESPN segment on "package deals" in college basketball -- could disturb the Trojans as they try to halt their recent skid before hitting the NCAA tournament wall.

Hackett and his father, the team's strength and conditioning manager, were only part of the ESPN segment. The report broke no new ground and noted that USC had not violated any rules.

But Hackett said it had been on his mind throughout the week, and his father made several comments about ESPN during the tense post-game locker-room scene after the Washington loss. Hackett and his father also argued as team managers worked to get the media out of room.

That prompted a circle-the-wagons approach by USC, as the sports information department refused to make Hackett or his father available for interviews after the ESPN show Sunday. The gag order carried into Monday, as Hackett said, "I'm not allowed to talk," when he arrived at the Galen Center.

Later, cleared to speak, Hackett said, "It was a tough week for me; losing that game was hurtful," then turned the topic back to Lewis, adding, "We care about each other. We care about this team. . . . It shouldn't never have happened out there. It should have been dealt with in the locker room."

The hangover from all this is to be seen. But USC (16-10 overall, 7-7 in conference play) has little room for error, dangling on the cusp of an NCAA tournament bid.

The sixth-place Trojans face a California team that is 20-7 overall and 9-5 in conference and Stanford, which has an 11-3 home record.

Floyd said he was "confident" that the turmoil wouldn't affect the team.

"These things happen with teams from time to time; this just happened in the wrong setting," Floyd said.

"I'd be real concerned if we gave up 100 points and [Washington] shot 60%."

--

chris.foster@latimes.com

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