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Trojans become bid players with upset of Bruins

USC 65, NO. 15 UCLA 55

USC stuns UCLA to reach Pac-10 final, and can reach the NCAA tournament by beating Arizona State today.

March 14, 2009|David Wharton

Two thousand miles away, the NCAA selection committee is watching.

The powers that be in college basketball have convened in Indianapolis to contemplate, discuss and otherwise haggle over putting March Madness in order, bracket-wise.

And USC is giving them a little more to ponder.

With a 65-55 upset victory over 15th-ranked UCLA in the semifinals of the Pac-10 tournament late Friday night, the Trojans put themselves squarely on the bubble, one step closer to sneaking into the NCAA tournament.

They can seal the deal with a victory in the championship game against Arizona State this afternoon. And even if they lose, they could strengthen their case for an at-large bid with a good showing.

The possibilities are not lost on USC Coach Tim Floyd, whose team has battled back from injuries this season.

"People tried to bury us," Floyd said. "We're a good team."

They showed it with their low-scoring, hotly contested win at Staples Center.

The Trojans (20-12) came out with the same sort of fire they had shown in defeating California the night before, scrambling on defense, trapping in the corners and forcing UCLA into chilly 27% shooting.

Meanwhile, super-freshman DeMar DeRozan led all scorers with 21 points, and guard Dwight Lewis, who has struggled offensively since January, had 14.

UCLA (25-8) finally settled down, getting stops on defense and points from swingman Josh Shipp and forward Nikola Dragovic, the only Bruins who could put the ball in the basket.

By halftime, USC's lead was cut to 33-28.

At that point, there was still reason to expect a UCLA victory. Not only did the Bruins sweep the regular-season series, but in the second game at Pauley Pavilion, about six weeks ago, they swamped the Trojans by opening a 23-point lead in the first half and never looking back.

But UCLA Coach Ben Howland was treating that game like ancient history, preferring to talk about USC's gut-check victory over Cal.

"We know 'SC is playing very good basketball right now," he said before the game. "We know we've got a very tough matchup."

As for the Trojans, they just wanted another chance. And they played that way in the early minutes of the second half, with DeRozan stealing the ball and scoring on a dunk and guard Daniel Hackett following with a layup.

USC also got its defense revved up again, holding UCLA guards Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday to four points and one point, respectively.

"They made their shots, we didn't make ours," Bruins center Alfred Aboya said.

In at least one respect, it didn't matter who prevailed in this game -- either way, the Pac-10 was guaranteed to come out a winner.

Heading into the tournament, conference officials worried that economic woes might hurt attendance. Sure enough, advance sales were slow.

But the numbers haven't looked so bad this week, Pac-10 spokesman Jim Muldoon said. And lucking into a USC-UCLA matchup figured to help.

Consider that when the Trojans and Bruins met in the tournament last season, they generated an attendance bump. This time around, the Pac-10 sold 4,600 tickets on the day of the game.

"You know it's going to bring folks out," Muldoon said.

The fans saw a lot of USC defense in a game that UCLA never led.

Closing out the victory in the final minutes, the Trojans had to be hoping that the people inside Staples Center weren't the only ones watching.

david.wharton@latimes.com

--

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Pac-10 tournament

At Staples Center:

WEDNESDAY

Stanford 62, Oregon St. 54

Wash. State 62, Oregon 40

THURSDAY

Arizona State 68, Arizona 56

Washington 85, Stanford 73

USC 79, California 75

UCLA 64, Wash. State 53

FRIDAY'S SEMIFINALS

Arizona State 75, Washington 65 USC 65, UCLA 55

TODAY'S FINAL

Arizona State vs. USC,

3 p.m., Channel 2

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