Unbelievable Farmer Saves Trojans

Times Staff Writer

PULLMAN, Wash. -- Handed the postgame stat sheet, USC Coach Henry Bibby rubbed the top of his bald head and stared in disbelief.

His eyes growing wider in wonderment, Bibby whispered, to no one in particular.

"Look at Desmon Farmer," he said, shaking his head. "He had 35 points and 10 for 10 from the free-throw line. Jiminy Christmas."

True, Bibby's courtside language is more colorful than that. But he was that mesmerized by the career performance of Farmer, the talented yet often out-of-control junior shooting guard whose second-half explosion lifted the Trojans to a 97-90 victory over Washington State in both schools' Pacific 10 Conference opener Thursday night.

Of Farmer's career-high point total, 31 came in 13 minutes of the second half, during which he made a career-best seven three-point baskets. He also had two rebounds, three assists and a steal in front of an announced crowd of 1,114 at Friel Court.

"Every night's not going to be like that," said Farmer, who attempted nine three-pointers. "In nonconference [games], I was struggling and I didn't want to start out the Pac-10 like that. So I just came out and had some more confidence and it worked out."

The Trojans had played only once in the previous 21 days, a respite relished by Bibby.

He spoke of how beneficial the break was and of how much teaching the Trojans (5-3 overall, 1-0 in Pac-10) received during arduous practice sessions as they prepared for the league opener.

The lessons resumed at halftime against the Cougars, though, because USC, playing as flat and as uninspired as it had all season, was lucky to enter the locker room down by only 43-37. The Trojans trailed by as many as 10 points with six minutes left in the first half.

"It was just shock in there really," said sophomore guard Derrick Craven, who started at the point. "Our practices have been intense so we shouldn't have been so flat. The coaches weren't really yelling at us [at halftime]. It was just shock because we knew we should win this game."

As rusty as the Trojans were in the opening half, it seemed as if all the WD-40 in the Palouse would not have helped them.

Enter Farmer.

With hot shooting from the left wing, Farmer made six straight three-point shots to open the second half, and his seventh of the game gave the Trojans a 64-60 lead with 10:58 left.

"The guy was just running a fever," said Washington State Coach Paul Graham. "He was hitting some deep threes and we were out of position on a couple but he was just making some unbelievable shots. He was on fire."

He was so hot that the only thing that could stop him were the cramps he suffered in each calf with 7:41 left and USC leading, 74-66.

Even with Farmer out, Washington State (5-5, 0-1) never got closer than four points. Sophomore point guard Brandon Brooks and junior forward Jerry Dupree, who had five points, six rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal in his season debut after a seven-game suspension, maintained order.

It was only appropriate, then, that a relaxed Farmer re-entered the game and made eight free throws in the final 38.2 seconds.

"I was just thinking about water and Gatorade," said Farmer, whose previous career high of 24 points came as a freshman at the Sports Arena against the Cougars. "But I wasn't thinking about how big the hoop was; I was thinking about keeping my form. I was getting more lift on my shot. I think that's why I cramped up, both of them at the same time."

Brooks, who had a career-high nine points with five assists and one turnover in 24 minutes, said Farmer's shooting helped him run the team.

"That's my man," he said. "That goes in my top five of best performances I've ever seen, the best Division I performance. That was just a ridiculous performance."

It was the highest-scoring output by a Trojan since Adam Spanich had 35 points against Washington on Jan. 29, 1998.

Said a more composed Bibby: "I haven't seen a player, since I've been coaching, shoot it like he shot it tonight. Desmon put on an exhibition."

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