(DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett address the media after cinching an NCAA Tournament berth with a 66-63 win over Arizona State. DeRozan was named the tournament MVP)
USC put together three sparkling days of basketball to seize an NCAA Tournament berth and now some bubble team, likely in the Big East, Big Ten or SEC, just lost its bid and will be NIT-bound. Tim Floyd is an outstanding coach and his defensive strategy on James Harden was impressive. If you recall, Harden, the Pac-10's player of the year, scored four points at Galen Center in a loss to USC. On Saturday he had 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting. If Jeff Pendergraph, who led ASU with 18 points, is the Devils' leading scorer, they generally are beatable. Harden sets the pace for that team and he tried two big shots down the stretch.
The first was blocked by Taj Gibson, who did not have a strong game (7 points, 5 rebounds, 37 minutes) but came up with the defensive play of the game. Harden, with the Sun Devils trailing by two, tried for the decisive 3-pointer but missed it. Marcus Simmons made the smart play to flip the ball off Harden out of bounds, giving USC the possession and eventually the win.
Here is ASU reaction:
Coach Herb Sendek
"They came out and sort of hit us between the eyes to start the second half. They went on that flurry and then we regained our footing. We didn't do a very good job of executing our press in that instance and it led to some easy baskets for them and certainly turned the momentum of the basketball game, and what was a lead for us quickly evaporated.
"Taj Gibson is an outstanding defender. He's one of the best defenders in the Pac-10 and we are well aware of his excellence in that area."
ON JAMES HARDEN
"James' presence on the court creates opportunities on the court for other guys to score. If they put a defender like (Daniel) Hackett who doesn't have any help responsibilities, other guys are the benefactors. In James' case, you can't simply say that's it's five isolated games of one-on-one and sometimes he doesn't get the credit he deserves because all the attention he draws that allows other people to eat."
"USC has a real exciting defense. They have a lot of great defenders on their team and their defense is tough; they play man and they guard their man. They're such a unique defense. Hackett is a great defender and a great basketball player. His primary goal is to contain me and that's all he has to worry about. He's just a great defender and the team has great defenders as well so they did a pretty good job today."
"One of the things we talked about before the game was that Taj is great at protecting the basket. If you get by the guy that's guarding you, you can guarantee he's going to be there waiting for you. I guess we forgot about that and just jumped right into him thinking we were going to draw fouls, but he's a smarter defender than that and just kept blocking shots."