The Galen Center just had a certain atmosphere last night. Yeah yeah, the game was close whatever, but I don't think anyone could quite understand unless they were ther. It just felt like USC was in control and that they would win this game. Even when the teams went into the locker room and the Trojans were down 38-33 it really felt like the team could have just as easily been up by double digits. Maybe it was because SC had some jaw droppingly athletic plays, maybe it was the fact that nearly every starter was playing through some difficult injury or illness, or maybe it was just that the curtains were open and the whole of downtown LA was bearing down on arena. Whatever it was, the atmosphere was special.
With less than two minutes to go and the Trojans clinging to a single digit lead, Hackett took the ball down court and made things happen. He cut hard to his left and made an absolutely clutch jump shot to give SC a bit of a cushion. On the ensuing possession the team put the clamps down on defense and Marcus Johnson came up with a very nice steal. Game Over right? Well it could have been, but for reasons unknown to mere mortals and college basketball coaches alike, Hackett decided to press with only 45 seconds and sent the ball up to Marcus Johnson, who was not ready for the pass as it bounced off of his hands and out of bounds.
More after the jump!
Stanford scored on a quick jumper and Hackett once again pressed up court and managed to draw the 7th foul on Stanford to go to the line for the one and one. What could possibly be better? Here we have the best free throw shooter on the line with 15 seconds on the clock with a chance to all but ice the game. However, winning the game with that much time on the clock simply was not aligned with fate that night and a completely gassed Hacklett clanged the shot off of the rim into the hands of... DEMAR DEROZAN!? But wait! Now the ball is on the floor, and now most of the players are on the floor too! Is he out of bounds? Wait... there's a time out now! Stanford Posession!? Oh please Tim Floyd don't get a technical! ...I think you get the idea.
So Mitch Johnson lead the Trees up the court for one last good, and absolutely everyone in the arena was on their feet. The ball was sent round and round for what felt like an eternity until there was a scant 3 seconds on the clock and Hill was matched up against Taj Gibson. He faded back and let off a strongly contested shot, and I am telling you now that if the stars had been aligned any differently then that shot is going down. But it spun around and hopped out, and USC walked away with 1 point victory. I swear, it was just like the corniest sports movie you have ever seen in your life; take your family to see this years heartwarming tale of players overcoming illness and injury to will their way to victory, I kid you not.
Someone asked if this team has any identity, and we know now what it is. USC is a defense first group that has a ton of athletic slashers who can get to the hoop and the players know how to play like a team.Leonard Washington was brilliant with 12 points and 4 boards in 18 minutes of play, and both MJ and Derozan had awesome one handed throwdowns. And don't forget about Hackett and Gibson each playing nearly the entire game despite coming off of failry serious illness. Taj had 20 points, 4 rebounds and a couple of assists to go with two blocks, and Hackett came up with 12 points, 4 assists, and a couple of steals with only 2 TOs. Overall an excellent team performance.
Now the Trojans have to face a tough Cal team on Saturday that has been shooting lights out from beyond the arc. But regardless, I am feeling pretty good about the game. SC has been excellent at home, and the recent games have shown that this team has the players and will to win tough games. So let's go SC and earn that NCAA tournament bid!