| 03-10-2008, 10:44 AM||
|Trojans have eyes on another run
With an NCAA berth virtually a.ssured, USC is hoping to at least duplicate last year's surge to Pac-10 tournament final, which preceded a run to NCAA Sweet 16.
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By Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 10, 2008
Now that USC has probably a.ssured itself of a spot in the NCAA tournament by winning five of its last six games, the Trojans can focus on ringing in the postseason.
USC came within one victory of securing Pacific 10 Conference tournament championship rings last season when it lost to Oregon, 81-57, in the title game.
"I call it the 'Baby March Madness,' " Trojans sophomore Daniel Hackett said Saturday of the Pac-10 tournament. "It's a chance to win more games, and you want to go out there and get that ring. We got to the final last year and we'll try to get deep again."
Fourth-seeded USC opens tournament play in a quarterfinal at noon Thursday at Staples Center against fifth-seeded Arizona State, which some NCAA tournament prognosticators consider a "bubble" team after finishing tied with Oregon for fifth in the Pac-10.
The Sun Devils (19-11 overall, 9-9 in conference play) are on somewhat shaky postseason ground after going 5-5 over their last 10 games.
ESPN's Joe Lunardi excluded Arizona State from his tournament bracket and included Oregon and Arizona, even though the Sun Devils swept the Wildcats and split their two games against the Ducks during the regular season.
The Trojans (20-10, 11-7), coming off a weekend sweep of California and Stanford, will have plenty of motivation to defeat Arizona State after suffering an 80-66 defeat in Tempe on March 1, a game in which they were called for a season-high 29 fouls to 14 for the Sun Devils. Arizona State shot 39 free throws to USC's 11.
"Obviously, you want a shot at beating someone that just beat you," Hackett said.
USC Coach Tim Floyd said he considered the Pac-10 tournament good preparation for the NCAA tournament because of the rapid turnaround between games.
"Assuming you can get the first win, you've got to prepare quickly for the next one and you're doing it against NCAA tournament-caliber teams in our league every night," Floyd said Saturday. "So it cannot hurt you."
Floyd said his one concern about the Pac-10 tournament was the potential for injuries to a team that typically goes seven deep.
"We just can't afford one to any of our seven that we're playing because we don't have a lot behind them," Floyd said.
This could be the first and only Pac-10 tournament appearance for freshman guard O.J. Mayo, an early-entry candidate for the NBA draft.
"As a kid I always dreamed of playing in March Madness and conference tournaments and NCAA tournaments," Mayo said. "It's finally here and I'm ready to get geared up to play. It's tournament time. It's all about surviving and advancing."
Hackett acknowledged that the stress fracture in his lower back and a torn oblique muscle continue to limit his effectiveness, particularly on offense. In the four games since he returned from the injuries, he's averaged 4.8 points, roughly half of his season average, and has compiled as many turnovers as a.ssists.
"It's not comfortable at all," Hackett said. "I'm limited a little bit on some moves, but I just want to be out there and win games and try to help in any shape or form. I turned the ball over a lot [Saturday against Stanford], and that's not me, but I have four or five days until the next game and I'm trying to get my body right and my mind right."
Last Year = Sweet 16
This Year = Final 4
Next Year = Title...
Last edited by -Scar-; 03-10-2008 at 10:46 AM..