USC 67 Washington 64, USC 16-9 (8-5 Pac-10)
With a 67-64 victory over Washington in addition to Cal's sixteen point loss to Oregon State on Thursday night, the Trojans moved into a tie for second place in the Pac-10 with Arizona State - and only a half game behind the first place Golden Bears. But it wasn't easy at all for Kevin O'Neill's bunch despite the fact that they lead by eight points at halftime. Facing a Washington bunch that had suffered just one home loss thus far this season, the Trojans nearly blew their double-digit late in the second half, as the Huskies went on a run to cut the Trojans' lead to just one with one minute left. Fortunately for 'SC, Mike Gerrity shouldered the load in the closing minutes with six key points to seal the victory.
In leaving Seattle with a victory in hand, the Trojans proved that their 87-61 rout of the Huskies last month at Galen Center was no fluke. Washington, a team that averages 81 points a game and is even more dangerous while playing in front of their crowd at Bank of America Arena, was held to one of their lowest scoring output of the season with 64 points and 44.4 shooting from the field. The Trojans' athleticism was overwhelming as UW struggled to stop them, even with their aggressive man-to-man defense.
But Thursday night was huge for USC. The win marked the first true road victory for the Trojans outside of Los Angeles, as they had gone just 1-6 on the road all season long. Additionally, K.O.'s crew put themselves in a position to win the conference with Cal's double-digit road loss. Provided the team can win out, 'SC is guaranteed at least share of the regular season Pac-10 title. Can you imagine a great recruiter like O'Neill walking into a 17 year-old kid's house; telling him and his family that the Trojans were conference champs in a year where they lost half their roster to the professional ranks and entire recruiting class to Arizona? If that doesn't get USC fans excited, I'm not sure what does.
- Dwight Lewis continues to have a strong second half of the season, as the senior guard scored 22 points while shooting 9-of-16 from the field. Lewis was nearly invincible in the first half, as he had 16 points before the Huskies finally started to double-team him toward the end of the contest. Brilliant concept. Luckily, "Big Time," as he is collectively referred to by students, didn't force anything in the latter stages of the game, enabling the team to remain in the flow offensively.
- Mike Gerrity, who has struggled a bit scoring-wise in the past few games, stepped it up big-time in the closing minutes. After a Venoy Overton basket with 1:25 left cut USC's lead to just one, Gerrity went down to the opposite end of the court to score a layup, giving the team a three point lead. One possession later, Baby Nash hit a fallaway 12-footer with 15 seconds left to seal the victory. His 12 points on the evening were all scored in the second half.
- Alex Stepheson seems to have fallen off the map. The junior center played just 10 minutes, scored no points, and had 1 awful turnover, before backup forward Leonard Washington took most of his minutes in the second half. As a result, Stepheson was seen at the end of the bench with a towel draped over his end, marking another game in which he has largely been a non-factor.
- Speaking of Washington, the Louisiana native came off the bench to have a huge impact for the Trojans. In 29 minutes, had finished with 8 points and 8 rebounds to go along with similar numbers from fellow big man Nikola Vucevic - 13 points and 10 rebounds. By comparison, UW's starting big men Justin Holliday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning had just nine rebounds.
- One of the primary factors in 'SC's victory on Thursday was Washington's decision to play man-to-man defense exclusively. It's no secret that the Trojans struggle against a zone, and the Huskies' aggressive man-to-man defense played right into the Trojans' hands, especially those of Mike Gerrity who was able to break his defender off the dribble and get to the basket with relative ease.
The Trojans will head east to face the Washington State Cougars, who are coming off two incredibly frustrating losses. Last Saturday, the Cougars blew a double-digit lead on the road at Cal and against UCLA last night they lost by twenty points. A win should certainly be in the cards, but in a wild and crazy Pac-10, nothing is a guarantee.
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