LOS ANGELES -- Sometimes when things aren't going your way all you can do as a coach is raise your hands in the air and ask your players to do things they've never done before.
That was basically USC coach Tim Floyd's "game plan" after his Trojans had fallen behind 39-24 in the first half of the Pac-10 Tournament Championship game against Arizona State on Saturday.
"I don't think we've ever worked on a press, have we Daniel?" said Floyd, looking at his point guard, Daniel Hackett, shaking his head. "It wasn't any coaching, we just asked them to muck the game up. Just go up and start trapping and doubling and I wish I could tell you we did something tricky but we didn't."
The surprisingly aggressive defense forced Arizona State into three turnovers within the first three minutes of the second half as USC cut Arizona State's lead down to six points.
Then during the game's most crucial moment, Floyd asked forward Taj Gibson to switch a screen and roll, something he doesn't normally do in Floyd's defense since Floyd wanted Gibson to defend Arizona State's James Harden in the last minute instead of Hackett. Gibson ended up forcing Harden into a missed layup and three-pointer in the final 50 seconds to seal the comeback win, 66-63.
"We had not a switched a screen and roll all game until the last two possessions," said Floyd. "It really was a classic match-up with the league's best defender and the league's MVP offensively."
Three things we learned:
1. The Trojans are a dangerous tournament team when healthy. While Floyd doesn't normally use excuses, he has been playing the "what if" game in his mind for most of the season looking at his depleted roster. He has had four players miss a combined 16 games this season, not including forward Kasey Cunningham, who has been out for the season since November. When his current roster is healthy, however, as they have been since March, the Trojans are 8-0 and are currently riding a five-game winning streak after winning their first-ever Pac-10 Tournament title, becoming the lowest seed (sixth) ever to do so.
2. Leads don't mean anything to these teams. Maybe the most important thing we learned about the Trojans and the Sun Devils during the Pac-10 Tournament is that they can take and give up leads in the blink of an eye. USC lead Cal by 18 and allowed the Bears to tie it in the final minute Thursday, and lead UCLA by 15 and allowed the Bruins to come within four late on Friday. Arizona State then lead Washington by 21 before letting the Huskies take the lead in the second half on Friday.
"The only thing I said at halftime is thank god we know that teams can blow leads," Floyd said after the game. "We've given two away the last two games. I said I'm not sure you guys have the courage of those two teams that we played against but we'll find out."
3. DeMar DeRozan played his last game in Los Angeles for USC. Coming into the Pac-10 Tournament most within the USC program thought one of the few silver lining to the otherwise disappointing season was that DeRozan, who was good but not great during his freshman year, would be returning for his sophomore year along with a stellar recruiting class. Floyd has continued to go out of his way to compare DeRozan to Nick Young, who stayed at USC for three years and not O.J. Mayo. Well, after DeRozan was named the tournament's most outstanding player, scoring a game-high 25 points against Arizona State, the freshman is as good as gone no matter how many USC fans were chanting "One More Year!" after the game.
"If we didn't get to the tournament my mindset would have been you got to do it again next year, you got to stick with the team and keep going," said DeRozen, who notched a game-high 21 points and 13 rebounds against UCLA Friday. "But I'm just focused on USC right now."
Player who impressed me
Arizona State's James Harden grabs most of the headlines for Arizona State, but if they are going to have a long run in the tournament, the Sun Devils are going to need Jeff Pendergraph and Derek Glasser to play the way they did for most of the game Sunday. Pendergraph scored a team-high 18 points and grabbed a game-high seven rebounds, while Glasser added 16 points and showed that he is the perfect tournament point guard with his ability to control his team and create plays for himself and his teammates.
After Gibson missed two easy lay-ups in the first half, Floyd turned around in disgust, took out his gum and threw it towards the trash bin behind his chair, his hand less than a foot from the bin. It, too, missed. "It was that kind of half," said Floyd.
Hackett, after hitting a couple free throws to give USC its first lead of the game with 42 seconds left puts his hands to his ears and screamed, "C'mon, get up, give it up!" Hackett could be forgiven for not hearing the crowd as there was plenty of empty seats at Staples Center, which is only a couple miles away from the USC campus. While USC football routinely gets over 90,000 for football games, getting 10,000 to come watch the basketball team win the Pac-10 is still a struggle.
What's up next
Arizona State was already in the NCAAs as a solid No. 5 or 6 seed and will likely stay there even after Saturday's loss. USC, which wouldn't have made it in had it not won, will have to wait until Selection Sunday to find out where it will be, but some were optimistically predicting a No. 9 seed while others were just hoping to be in a nice city.
"We'll see where we go, hopefully it won't be Omaha, what's it, I don't even know how to pronounce it," said Hackett, who played every minute of the tournament for USC. "Hopefully it will be somewhere close."