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USC 80, OREGON 66

USC pulls away from last-place Oregon

Trojans have trouble holding leads again but recover in time to get the victory.

March 06, 2009|Chris Foster

It was a victory. Those have been hard to come by for USC's basketball team.

So never mind that Oregon, the Pacific 10 Conference's last-place team, gave the Trojans cold sweats Thursday. Or that once again no lead seemed safe until the clock ran out and an 80-66 victory no longer a mirage.

Not even the smattering of applause from a small crowd at the Galen Center could put a damper on this moment.

"It was joy, it was all joy," said USC guard Daniel Hackett, who bounced the ball hard for emphasis as the final seconds ran out. "It's good to get back on the right track."

There have been bigger moments for the Trojans (17-12 overall, 8-9 in conference play) this season. But beating the bottom-dwelling Ducks will do at this point.

That kept alive the possibility that USC could finish as high as fifth and increased the chances that the Trojans can avoid Wednesday's play-in game for the conference tournament. With a last game against Oregon State on Saturday, USC can finish anywhere from fifth to eighth place.

"I haven't looked at any of that," Coach Tim Floyd said. "I know we'll play someone who has given us fits this season."

That would be every team in the conference.

But this was a moment to savor, grading on a USC curve.

"It feels good to win again," Floyd said. "It feels like it's been three months."

Naw, it has only been two weeks.

But for the Trojans, who had lost six of seven games since January ended, calendar pages have flipped fast.

"It's March, we have some work to do," said Taj Gibson, who had 18 points and four blocked shots. "We dug ourselves into this hole, now we have to get ourselves out."

That was reflected in a game where the Trojans' multiple personalities were on display. They let a 12-point lead slip away in the first half, then nearly saw a 13-point lead evaporate in the second half.

Josh Crittle's layup and foul shot pulled the Ducks (8-21, 2-15) to within 64-62 with four minutes left. Memories of blowing an 11-point lead against Stanford danced like sugar plums in Trojan heads.

Said Gibson: "We don't know how to step on the neck and put it away."

The Trojans finally did just that.

DeMar DeRozan made a jumper from the free-throw line for a 66-62 lead. Gibson and Hackett blocked shots on the Ducks' next possession, resulting in a DeRozan layup. A 14-0 run was in motion.

"We're still learning to be a good team again," Floyd said.

There were signs of that.

DeRozan, a highly touted freshman, showed what all the fuss was about when he came to USC this season. He scored 19 points, making seven of nine shots, none bigger than the jumper from the free-throw line.

"I look for my sweet spots out there," DeRozan said. "That's one of them."

USC shot 58.3% for the game.

More importantly, the Trojans shot 78.6% from the free-throw line, coming off a lost weekend in the Bay Area, where they made 25 of 49 free throws.

Thursday, they made all 14 of their free throws in the last four minutes, six by Hackett.

"We needed to establish our identity as a tough defensive team," said Hackett, who had 17 points, six assists and five rebounds. "We got this one. Now we got to go get another one Saturday."

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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