Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tournament wrapup

(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."


"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."

Celebration in Troy

USC's Dwight Lewis cuts down the net after the 66-63 win over ASU at Staples Center.

The Trojans put together one of the most impressive conference tournament runs in recent memory, beating Cal, UCLA and Arizona State on consecutive days to become the fifth Pac-10 team that will make the tournament along with the aformentioned three and Washington.

USC turned up the defensive intensity in the second half, holding the Sun Devil to 24 points and neutralizing the effectiveness of forward Jeff Pendergraph. Tournament MVP DeMar Derozan likely cinched his top 10 pick status with another strong game while James Harden finished with just 10 points.

Taj Gibson motions to the crowd after cutting down the nets.

Final: USC 66, Arizona State 63 -- Trojans headed to Big Dance

Dwight Lewis cans one free throw and Derek Glasser misses desperation 3-pointer at buzzer and USC has burst the bubble of some team and is headed to the NCAA Tournament.

USC 65, Arizona State 63, 2.4 seconds left

Taj Gibson has not been much of a factor today but the USC all-time blocks leader delivered a big one against James Harden and was fouled. Harden misses a 3-pointer and Marcus Simmons makes the biggest play of the season by knocking the ball off of Harden out of bounds.

USC 64, Arizona State 63, 25 seconds left

Daniel Hackett drains both free throws and suddenly the Staples Center is in a frenzy

Arizona State 63, USC 62 50.7 left

The two teams continue to trade baskets but when the Trojans needed a stop, James Harden went to the basket and was fouled by Daniel Hackett, hitting one free throw.
Dwight Lewis responded with another big 3-pointer and Harden has just picked up a charging call. Hackett will go to the line to give USC its first lead since 5-4.

Arizona State 60, USC 57, 2:33 left

USC continues to make runs at Arizona State and Arizona State continues to stave off those runs. Taj Gibson's slam with 8:44 left brought USC to within 55-53 but Arizona State has fought off the Trojans, keyed by big shots from Ty Abbott and Jeff Pendergraph, who has 20 points. James Harden has just nine, dispelling those notions that Harden has to have a big game for ASU to fare well.

Arizona State 51, USC 45 -- 12:42 left

The Trojans have cut significantly into the Sun Devils' lead using a full-court press that is speeding up the game, causing turnovers and creating transition baskets. DeMar DeRozan continues to make his bid for tournament MVP with 20 of USC's 45 points. Daniel Hackett has 13.

James Harden has nine but the Trojans have seized momentum and increased their defensive intensity.

USC mounting rally -- trail 46-35

The Trojans has scored the 11 of the first 13 points of the half to cut the lead to 41-35 before Ty Abbott, a candidate for all-tournament team, responded with a momentum-changing 3-pointer. Derek Glasser responds with another jumper and it's an 11-point game again with 15:53 left.

Sitting in front of UCLA guard Josh Shipp, who is watching his brother Jerren of Arizona State.

The Staples Atmosphere

Friday night was rocking here at Staples as USC and UCLA renewed their bitter rivalry but today is different as the USC faithful have not been able to full the lower bowl of Staples Center. It's a disappointing crowd considering USC is one win away from the NCAA Tournament.

Meanwhile, the Trojans have scored the first five points of the second half and trail 41-31.

Halftime: Arizona State 39, USC 24 (USC has nothing in tank)

LOS ANGELES -- Well you would have thought USC would enter this monumental game with major momentum and fire but it's been exactly the opposite. Arizona State has been the better team, more motivated team and smarter team.

The Sun Devils have ran their offense to perfection, relying on the dominating paint play of senior Jeff Pendergraph and the 3-point shooting of Derek Glasser, James Harden and Rihards Kuksiks. USC tied the game at 18 but then wilted and allowed Arizona State to end the game on a 21-6 run.

Taj Gibson, who was such a factor in the first two Pac-10 Tournament games, has two points and three rebounds and he can't stop the bigger Pendergraph in the paint. Pendergraph, whom may have made himself some NBA money this weekend by showing his developing jumper, has 10 points and four rebounds.

USC has no energy and looks like the team that lost at Oregon State, Stanford and Seton Hall.



WHEN/WHERE: 3:15 p.m. today, Staples Center


(DeMar DeRozan, right, shoots against Arizona State's Rihards Kuksiks. DeRozan has been the best player in the NCAA Tournament and is a projected top 10 pick if he departs for the NBA.) Associated Press

USC (20-12, 11-9 Pac-10)

Trojans starting lineup Pts. Reb. Ast.
G Daniel Hackett(Jr.) 12.3 4.2 4.8
G Dwight Lewis (Jr.) 14.1 3.2 2.1
G DeMar DeRozan(Fr.) 13.3 5.8 1.3
G Marcus Simmons(So.) 2.1 1.4 0.4
F Taj Gibson (Jr.) 14.6 9.5 1.2

ARIZONA STATE (24-8, 13-7)

Sun Devils starting lineup Pts. Reb. Ast.
G Derek Glasser (Jr.) 8.3 2.0 4.8
G Ty Abbott (S0.) 6.6 4.1 1.7
G James Harden (S0.) 21.1 5.6 4.1
F Rihards Kuksiks (So.) 10.3 3.9 1.5
C Jeff Pendergraph (Sr.) 14.4 8.5 0.9

WHAT TO KNOW: The game will gain major national attention, especially from those bubble teams such as Florida, Arizona, St. Mary's Kentucky and Creighton because if the Trojans win, they are taking someone else's tourney slot. There is little chance USC would reach the NCAA with 13 losses if they drop today's game but they would have to be considered the prohibitive favorite considering they haven't trailed in the two wins over Cal and UCLA. ... USC is getting exceptional contributions from DeRozan, Gibson and Lewis, whose big shots in the first half allowed USC to take a sizable early lead and then hold off the Bruins in the second half. Gibson has produced 34 points and 27 rebounds in the two games and his matchup with Pendergraph will be one of the game's highlights. ... The Sun Devils took a 21-point lead against No. 1 seed Washington and held on behind a spunky performance from Glasser, a surprising contribution from Abbott and a typical Harden effort. An ASU win could mean a fourth seed and a better first-round NCAA matchup and the Sun Devils have also never won a Pac-10 Tournament.

WHO TO WATCH: DeRozan has realized that the Pac-10 Tournament is littered with NBA scouts and he has shined, tallying 38 points and 21 rebounds in the previous two tournament games, including a furious dunk on UCLA Nikola Dragovic that set the tone for the game. If he is on and matches Harden, USC could be headed to the NCAA Tournament.

HEAD TO HEAD: This is the third meeting between the two clubs and each team won at home. DeRozan scored 22 points and Lewis added 18 as USC cruised to a 61-49 win on Jan. 15 at Galen Center. Glasser scored 18 and USC coach Tim Floyd was ejected in the final minutes as Arizona State won 65-53 on Feb. 15 in Tempe.

(Floyd gets ejected for arguing a charge call against Hackett) Associated Press

WASHBURN'S PICK: The Trojans are headed dancing, using the momentum from the previous two wins to edge the Sun Devils 75-72.