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USC BASKETBALL

Michigan State sends USC home, 74-69

With Taj Gibson in foul trouble, Trojans hang close but can't overcome Spartans.

March 23, 2009|Chris Foster
  • USC forward Taj Gibson makes a move inside against Michigan State's Durrell Summers during the second half. Gibson would foul out with five minuts to play and only three points.
USC forward Taj Gibson makes a move inside against Michigan State's… (Jim Mone / Associated Press )

MINNEAPOLIS — Did Hackett get hacked?

That's a question USC fans will ask for a while.

The image of Daniel Hackett flying toward the basket, seemingly about to tie the score in Sunday's NCAA tournament second-round game against Michigan State, was followed by one of Trojans Coach Tim Floyd rolling around on the Metrodome floor like a hound dog with fleas.

On such moments, tournament travel plans are made. The Spartans get an all-expenses-paid trip to Indianapolis after a 74-69 victory put them in this week's Sweet 16. The Trojans winged their way back to Los Angeles, where they could relive one moment.

Hackett intercepted a pass in the Michigan State backcourt with 1 minute 48 seconds left and the Spartans leading, 71-69. He burned toward the basket, only to have the ball fly out of his hands. Moments later, with the shot clock running down, Michigan State's Goran Suton was fouled.

His two free throws made it a four-point game, and the Trojans' six-game winning streak, which took them through the Pacific 10 Conference tournament and an NCAA first-round game, was about to expire.

"It came down to a couple of plays," Hackett said. "There was the game."

Getting to that point was a chore for both teams. There were 14 lead changes, seven in the last eight minutes, and 16 ties.

Michigan State neutralized Taj Gibson, USC's leading scorer, who was limited to 23 minutes and three points before fouling out. The Spartans got a offensive boost from Travis Walton's 18 points; he hadn't scored more than eight in the last two months.

USC weathered that, getting substantial play from freshman forwards Leonard Washington (10 points) and Nikola Vucevic (six points). The Trojans put the game in proper hands, those of Hackett, Dwight Lewis and DeMar DeRozan.

Both teams had clear paths to victory, which intersected at one point. Hackett stole the ball and Floyd went into a break-dance routine.

In between . . .

"I don't know if it was me, but someone hit the ball," Michigan State's Kalin Lucas said.

So the ball was the only thing hit?

"Daniel drove the lane and the defender took him out," Gibson said.

So it was a foul?

"Did they call a foul?" Lewis said.

Asked if there was a foul, Lewis smiled and said, "If they didn't call a foul, there must have been no contact."

Hackett said the blame was his.

"I saw the guy in front of me getting ready to take the charge, that kind of distracted me," he said. "The ball fumbled out of my hands. It happened. It was unfortunate."

The good fortune USC created in recent weeks wasn't there Sunday. The Trojans had played a game of survival to get into the NCAA tournament, winning the conference tournament to get in, and then beat Boston College in the first round Friday.

The Spartans (28-6), seeded second in the Midwest Regional, were a different challenge. They had depth, getting 26 points off the bench to the Trojans' six, and savvy, though focusing on Gibson was hardly a stroke of genius. After all, Gibson had scored 24 points against Boston College, shooting 10 for 10 from the field.

He did not have a field goal Sunday and fouled out with 5:28 left.

"When I got the ball down low, they had guys digging around," said Gibson, who got only two shots. "They had two guys locked on me."

Gibson also picked up fouls, as he did the previous two years in the NCAA tournament. He fouled out against North Carolina as a freshman and against Kansas State a year ago, both season-ending losses for USC.

"I think the job we did on Gibson, you have to give Goran a lot of credit," Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said. "We wanted to go at him. . . . The other thing is we wanted to get help from other guys."

USC (22-13) had defensive plans, as well, involving man-to-man and boutique zones -- box-and-one, triangle-and-two. None were designed to pay much attention to Walton, who had made only eight field goals in the previous seven games.

Walton made eight of 13 shots Sunday, all on mid-range jumpers.

"We were kind of caught off guard with that," Lewis said. "We didn't think he could knock down a 17-foot jump shot consistently. He proved us wrong today."

But, DeRozan said, "We have been in this position all season. We fought our way through it."

But this time, DeRozan said, "little things can happen that change the whole transition of the game. We all knew it was a tough call the refs had to make. That's just how the game goes."

--

chris.foster@latimes.com

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