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January 31, 2008

USC brings hot streak against Arizona teams

USC has discarded the youth excuse gladly. The inexperienced Trojans, it seems, have meshed. And from now until the Pac-10 tournament, nothing should be too new for a rotation largely devoid of upperclassmen.

"It's not easy when you have a lot of talented guys and get them together on the same court," sophomore guard Daniel Hackett said. "You've got to have commitment from everybody, and everybody has to respect their roles. Once they learn their roles, they can make plays."

It appears that USC has found that level, following four-straight conference victories and a rise from last place in the Pac-10, to a tie for fourth. This weekend, the Trojans (13-6, 4-3 Pac-10) play the teams with which they are tied. One - Arizona - seems headed in a similar direction as USC. The Wildcats have won three-straight, heading into Thursday night's matchup at the Galen Center.

The other - Arizona State - has lost three straight, after starting conference play 4-0.

"We have a chance to get two home wins," Hackett said. "(Arizona and ASU) are going to come in here without pressure. We have the pressure. But we'll be able to answer."

According to coach Tim Floyd's widely-circulated standings formula, the only results that count are road victories (plus-one) and home losses (minus-one). Home victories are supposed to be givens, but neither game this weekend figures to be easy, as USC faces a couple of teams that also feature standout freshmen.

O.J. Mayo has played with and against both Arizona's Jerryd Bayless and ASU's James Hardin, in Amateur Athletic Union and high school all-star competitions. Each freshman leads his team in scoring, with Mayo and Bayless averaging 19.9 points per game.

Bayless and his teammates are undefeated (10-0) when they sink at least half of their shots. Countering that, USC has held Pac-10 opponents to a conference-best 36.9 percent from the field.

Mayo said USC's defensive prowess can be attributed, in part, to a more-patient offense, which has shot 54.7 percent in the past three games. The Trojans have slowed down and are moving the ball well. That has led to higher-percentage shots, while limiting their sprints up and down the floor.

"Early in the year, I think that was most of our problem, was breaking down, getting fatigued toward the end of the game," Mayo said. "We're gong to continue to work the ball around, and continue to put guys in position to be successful on the offensive end and keep up our defensive intensity."

Players said that growing comfortable with one another's tendencies has helped. Also, the newness of the NCAA appears to be wearing off.

"It's understanding college basketball, and it takes five guys to win and everyone contributing in any which way," Mayo said. "Got to make sure everyone's happy. And as long as we win, I think everyone's happy."

Jonathan Kay can be reached at Jon@USCFootball.com


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