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Power of the Press Lifts USC

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stanford tried to prepare for USC’s often-devastating full-court press defense.

After being forced into 27 turnovers the last time the teams met, the Cardinal practiced five-on-seven this week, trying to get ready for the organized chaos the press presents.

It didn’t work.

The 20th-ranked Trojans used their defensive staple and a second-half run while throwing in a few more wrinkles to confound No. 10 Stanford again and embarrass the Cardinal, 77-58, Thursday in front of 7,391 at Maples Pavilion to stay even with Oregon at the top of the Pacific 10 standings.

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USC (19-6, 11-4), which completed its first regular-season sweep of Stanford (17-7, 10-5) since the 1991-92 season, had 11 steals and forced 16 turnovers in the Cardinal’s worst home loss since 1993. It was also USC’s largest margin of victory against Stanford since the Trojans’ 89-64 win at the Sports Arena in 1981.

“In their half-court offense, it was like all they were trying to do was get the ball to Casey Jacobsen,” USC freshman Errick Craven said. “It was like they wanted him to win the game himself and they were just happy to break the press.”

And after the Cardinal broke the press, a suffocating 2-3 zone defense was waiting.

“We threw a lot of different defenses at them,” USC senior point guard Brandon Granville said. “We were switching up on them and that was the difference.”

Stanford shot 46.8% from the field but USC limited the Cardinal to 26.3% (five for 19) from beyond the three-point arc.

Jacobsen did have a game-high 23 points but he was 0 for 4 from three-point territory and Stanford’s 7-foot center Curtis Borchardt was hounded into a 10-point, six-rebound night, 7.1 points and 5.6 rebounds below his averages.

Five Trojans scored in double figures for the fifth time this season with senior small forward David Bluthenthal continuing his hot hand with 22 points, making three of six three-pointers. Senior power forward Sam Clancy had his 11th consecutive double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Granville had 13 points, seven assists and one turnover in 24 foul-plagued minutes.

Freshman center Rory O’Neil came off the bench to score 12 points and Craven had 11 points and four steals.

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“We just came out and played our best,” Clancy said. “It was awesome.”

The full-court press can produce a rush of points in a hurry when it’s successful, but it can also let the opponent score in bunches and leave a team susceptible to scoreless droughts.

USC experienced both ends of the spectrum against Stanford.

After opening with an 11-5 lead 15:51 into the first half, the Trojans went cold while Stanford was busy with a 14-0 run over the next six minutes to go up by 19-11, the biggest lead of the half.

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Then it was the Trojans’ turn to run.

After unexpectedly starting football tight end-turned-basketball center Gregg Guenther, Bibby went with a quick lineup of Craven and Robert Hutchinson in the backcourt, Bluthenthal and Clancy at forward and O’Neil at center midway through the first half and USC held the Cardinal to two field goals over a stretch of 10-plus minutes.

And with Borchardt on the bench with two fouls, O’Neil hit a 15-foot jumper to give the Trojans a 31-25 lead with 1:46 remaining in the half.

Then Stanford closed the gap to 31-30 by halftime.

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USC had seen enough.

The Trojans forced Stanford into turnovers on its first two possessions of the second half, triggering a blistering 10-0 USC run.

The Cardinal would get no closer than eight points, 45-37, with 15:42 to play.

USC eventually held a game-high 23-point advantage, 77-54, with 51 seconds to play following a Granville layup.

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“There wasn’t much mystery to that game,” Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery said. “The better team won. The team that wanted it more won. The right team won. They were more physical, they got after loose balls and they played really well.

“The start of the second half was critical.”

USC Coach Henry Bibby paused when asked if he ever thought his team could blow out what is normally a fundamentally sound team in Stanford.

“We came here wanting to win a basketball game,” Bibby said. “You don’t think about a blowout. You think about coming in and playing hard and putting yourself in a position to win.”

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How Sweep It Is

Thursday night’s 77-58 victory gave USC its first sweep of Stanford since the 1991-92 season. A look at the Trojans’ seasons the last five times they’ve swept the Cardinal:

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Note: USC leads the series, 111-107. The Trojans have 17 season sweeps in a series that began in 1917.

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