USC Headed to a Third Straight Tourney with Pac-10 Tourney Win
March 14, 2009
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Southern California's defensive style is man-to-man. The Trojans don't pressure full-court, and yet that's what earned them the school's first Pac-10 tournament championship.
Daniel Hackett hit the tying and go-ahead free throws with 42 seconds remaining and USC held on for a 66-63 victory over No. 23 Arizona State on Saturday.
Freshman DeMar DeRozan scored 25 points, Hackett added 19 and Dwight Lewis 13 for the sixth-seeded Trojans (21-12), who overcame a 15-point halftime deficit and became the lowest seed to win the tourney.
James Harden, the Pac-10 player of the year, missed a free throw, a layup and a 3-pointer in the final 50 seconds for the fourth-seeded Sun Devils (24-9). They were led by Jeff Pendergraph with 20 points and Derek Glasser with 16 in the school's first appearance in the title game.
A stunned Pendergraph couldn't describe his emotions afterward, saying, "It's a lot of stuff and I don't want to say something crazy."
The Trojans had been 0-3 in league tourney finals, losing to Oregon in 2003 and 2007 and to Arizona in 2002. The previous lowest-seeded team to win was Oregon six years ago. USC split with the Sun Devils during the regular season.
"We focused on our practice and preparation and we took it one game at a time," Hackett said. "It got us to a championship."
DeRozan was named the tournament's most outstanding player, and USC fans responded by chanting "One More Year!" to the rookie who may be headed to the NBA draft.
"He played like a man, not a freshman," Hackett said. "He came in with a goal in mind, to make something at this school."
Lewis hit a 3-pointer in front of USC's bench that left the Trojans trailing 63-62 with 1:01 remaining. Harden was called for an offensive foul and turnover at ASU's end, then Glasser fouled Hackett to put him at the line with 42 seconds left. He made both to give USC a 64-63 lead, its first since the game's opening minutes.
Harden missed a layup with 19 seconds to go. Taj Gibson got the block and the defensive rebound and was fouled by Glasser. Gibson made one of two free throws for a 65-63 lead.
"Taj just blocked my shot," Harden said. "They play a unique style of defense. They play man and they guard their man."
Harden missed a 3-pointer over Gibson with 4 seconds to play. Harden finished with 10 points, well under his 21.1 average.
Gibson, the league's defensive player of the year, twice got the better of Harden when the two faced off in the final 19 seconds. First, Gibson blocked Harden's layup attempt, then he altered Harden's shot on the 3-point attempt.
"I was like, `Oh man, the rocker step is coming. Coach has faith in you, don't let him down,"' Gibson said he told himself as Harden came at him. "I was able to get a lucky block and rebound."
The Trojans inbounded and Lewis was fouled. He missed the first and made the second for a 66-63 lead. Glasser's 3-pointer from the far left sideline was off the mark at the buzzer.
Hackett climbed on the scorer's table and pumped his arm to the cheers of USC's fans. Lewis carried a cooler of Gatorade onto the court, but was discouraged from dumping it.
USC turned up its defense to start the second half, pressing the Sun Devils full-court and getting a couple of key steals by Gibson. The Trojans opened on a 29-16 run, including 13 points by DeRozan and nine by Lewis, to close to 55-53 with 8:42 remaining.
"We just told them to muck the game up and start trapping," USC coach Tim Floyd said. "The press got us more aggressive offensively."
During that stretch, the Trojans scored eight in a row, helped on one sequence with a block by Gibson and the defensive rebound by Hackett, who passed to DeRozan for the basket and a foul.
"They came out and they certainly hit us between the eyes to start the second half with that flurry," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "It led to some easy baskets for them and turned the momentum."
After getting beat inside in the first half, when the Sun Devils owned a 14-6 edge in the paint, the Trojans drove to the basket in the final 20 minutes and it paid off with dunks by DeRozan, Lewis and Gibson. But USC was shaky from the line over the final 6 1/2 minutes, going 6-of-10.
Arizona State made just four trips to the foul line in the game, while USC was 13-of-21 in what was "a tremendous disparity," Sendek said.
The Sun Devils shot 64 percent from 3-point range in the first half, with six of their last eight field goals coming from beyond the arc. Harden was scoreless with five assists when he hit back-to-back treys to end the half with the Sun Devils leading 39-24.
USC twice tied the game, the last time on Hackett's jumper with 10:40 remaining. But then Ty Abbott launched the 3-point barrage that put the Trojans behind by double-digits.
Coming off a 65-55 semifinal upset of No. 15 UCLA, the Trojans believed they needed the victory to earn the automatic NCAA tournament berth that goes with the title. Now they're guaranteed to receive their third invitation in Floyd's fourth season.
"When they're taking every team from the Big East, you feel like there's not that many spots left," he said. "We're very relieved we're going to the NCAA tournament. I'm very proud of these guys for not surrendering."
A year ago, USC lost in the first round to Kansas State.