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USC 79, CALIFORNIA 75

USC comes up with plan to beat California

Daniel Hackett puts a pacing plan in motion in frenetic final minutes, and the Trojans advance in Pac-10 tournament. Next up is UCLA tonight.

March 13, 2009|Chris Foster

One and not done.

That means more to USC than just the hope freshman forward DeMar DeRozan will send a stay-in-school message when the season is over.

For now, getting to the NCAA tournament is the only thing on the Trojans' to-do list after a 79-75 victory over California in the Pacific 10 Conference tournament Thursday.

There were times when USC's NCAA hopes seemed ready to vanish into the Staples Center rafters. But with every chance to let the game -- and quite possibly the season -- get away, the Trojans created opportunity.

USC guard Daniel Hackett, who made four free throws in the last four seconds to break a 75-75 tie, is weary of the NCAA speculation.

"I don't know if we need two victories or three, I just know we need the next one," he said.

The next one will be UCLA tonight. That gives USC 24 hours to recover from an intense game that reached a frantic pace in the final minutes.

USC built an 18-point first-half lead. California rushed back in the second half, tying the score on a Jerome Randle eight-foot runner with 19 seconds left. Hackett took the ball, barreled to the basket and was fouled. He made both free throws, then two more after California turned the ball over.

"We have a sense of urgency," said Hackett, who had 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. "Our backs are against the wall, we know it. All you can do is fight."

During a post-whistle possession jaw session in the first half, Hackett, unable to reach the center of the scrum, pushed two teammates closer to the fray. With four seconds left in the game, and the Bears down two, Randle lost the ball out of bounds, then bumped USC Coach Tim Floyd.

The two talked it out while Hackett shot his free throws, but there was that kind of edge to the game throughout.

"We definitely came in with the mind-set that this could be our season," said DeRozan, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds.

USC didn't tote an A-list status into the game, with few look-at-us moments for the selection committee to mull over. So the NCAA tournament, in reality, began Thursday for it.

USC jumped to a 21-7 lead and led by as many as 18 points in the first half, all of which meant little when California pushed back. The Bears shot 56.3% in the second half and closed to within 54-51 with 11 minutes left.

"They play with a rhythm that picks up speed," Hackett said.

So he dictated his own pace.

"Daniel huddled us together with five minutes left and gave us a lecture," USC's Taj Gibson said. "He said 'We're going to run the offense and keep moving. We're going to get the ball inside and we're going to get to the line.' Then he did all that. People say he's not a point guard. That's a point guard."

The Hackett doctrine played out in key moments, as USC maintained possession with two offensive rebounds, getting a dunk from Leonard Washington for a 70-64 lead.

Dwight Lewis, who made only four of 18 shots, made a three-pointer for a 75-70 lead.

All in all, USC made 16 of 20 free throws and had a 53-27 rebounding edge.

"The way you keep your poise is by rebounding, playing defense and making your free throws," said Gibson, who had 21 points and 16 rebounds.

All of which left the Trojans with another game to play and a simple plan to follow.

"We know what we have to do now," Hackett said. "We have to play the same way tomorrow night."

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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