USC's Daniel Hackett had the finest four-point game of his career Thursday night.
He seemed to know it while having a little quality time with teammate DeMar DeRozan at midcourt while the last 20 seconds ran off the clock. They were soon joined by other Trojans players as a worn-out Arizona State team looked on.
While the Trojans' 61-49 victory at the Galen Center was a fingerpainting mess at times, Hackett had produced a masterpiece. He shut down, and nearly shut out, James Harden, the Pacific 10 Conference's leading scorer.
Harden came in averaging 21 points in conference and finished with four, all from the free-throw line.
"Daniel didn't have a field goal and played the finest game I have had from a player since I came to USC," Coach Tim Floyd said.
Then again, numbers aren't what matter to Hackett. His impromptu team meeting was not to revel, but to refocus.
"He told me it can't end right here," said DeRozan, who had a career-high 22 points. "He said we have to come out and play this way every night."
The victory breathed some air into a Trojans season after consecutive losses left them gasping and trying to make up ground early in the conference race.
The Sun Devils, 14-3 overall and 3-2 in conference play, came into the game ranked 16th nationally, with Harden the main reason. The success brought them to town with confidence.
The Sun Devils had been sent home from Southern California like tourists without souvenirs in recent seasons.
Arizona State had lost 10 of its last 12 games to USC and UCLA in Los Angeles.
"Last year, some of the guys were just going back home to play," Harden said before the game. "This year, it's definitely a business trip."
Business hit a recession Thursday. The Sun Devils shot 34% and finished with the fewest points in a game this season. Hackett was the cause of much of their pain.
"Coach came out and asked who wanted the assignment, who wanted Harden," said the Trojans' Taj Gibson, who had 11 points and 11 rebounds. "Daniel stepped right up and said, 'Me.' That's him. He's got that edge. He was raised in Italy."
Hackett hounded Harden's every step. He stayed so close that the two might as well have carpooled to the game.
Harden finished 0 for 8 from the field. He didn't score his first point until 7 minutes 43 seconds remained in the game. When Harden tried to take control of the game late, Hackett pushed back.
As a result, the Trojans (11-5, 2-2) outscored the Sun Devils, 22-9, in the last eight minutes.
"I stayed body to body to him," Hackett said. "I tried to make him take the tough shots. I had a lot of help from Taj and other guys. We were able to frustrate him."
Gibson saw it differently, saying, "That was all Daniel."
Floyd said he was considering using Hackett as "the help man" against Harden. He changed his mind when assistant coach Phil Johnson "came to me and said, 'This is Daniel's guy.' "
Still, it didn't seem like the Sun Devils would need Harden. USC made only one of its first 12 shots and also had seven turnovers through the first 11 minutes.
Yet the Trojans trailed only 26-19 at halftime.
"We were down seven and we hadn't made a shot," Floyd said. "I knew we were going to start making some."
Dwight Lewis, who was replaced in the starting lineup by Donte Smith, made five of eight three-point shots and finished with 18 points.
DeRozan scored 17 of his points in the last 11 minutes.