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Trojans defense ranks among the nation’s best

Times Staff Writer

USC completed a 20-point second-half comeback during its 74-65 victory over George Washington on Saturday with 58 second-half points -- and seemingly as many defensive stops.

The Trojans’ hallmark has been a defense that has compensated for deficiencies in rebounding and ballhandling by limiting all eight of its opponents to less than 40% shooting. USC ranks second nationally in field-goal percentage defense (.329), behind only Connecticut (.328).

Even though the Trojans (6-2) committed 11 turnovers, were outrebounded by five and shot only 27.8% in the first half against George Washington in the Wooden Classic, they trailed only 29-16 at intermission because of their defense.

“It allowed us to stay around in the game. We were only down 13,” Coach Tim Floyd said after USC staged its biggest second-half rally since a 20-point comeback in a 70-67 victory over Brigham Young on Dec. 23, 2000. “That’s why you put an emphasis on the other end to get to where you can always fall back on it.”

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The Trojans intensified their defensive effort during a second half in which a pair of freshman forwards led the way.

Kyle Austin limited Colonials guard Carl Elliott to two second-half points on one-for-10 shooting and Taj Gibson secured eight defensive rebounds in the final 20 minutes.

“They did a terrific job of getting in the passing lanes,” George Washington Coach Karl Hobbs said. “They put great pressure on the ball, and they made it very difficult for us to get into our initial offense. There’s a reason why they’re one of the best defensive teams in the country.”

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Sophomore forward Jeremy Barr told huskersillustrated.com that he intended to transfer to Nebraska at the semester break. Barr, who was redshirting this season, averaged 3.1 points and 1.5 rebounds in 23 games as a freshman.

After his playing time plummeted over the second half of last season, Barr told Trojans coaches that he planned to transfer. He changed his mind and returned but never played this season and will have three years of remaining eligibility.

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Gibson’s 10.6 rebounding average leads the Pacific 10 Conference, and his 16-point, 17-rebound effort against George Washington marked his conference-leading fourth double-double.... Senior guard Lodrick Stewart has averaged 21.7 points over the last three games, shooting 56.1% from the field and 60.9% from three-point range.... The Trojans, who play host to Bethune Cookman on Thursday night at the Galen Center, did not practice Monday because of final exams.

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ben.bolch@latimes.com


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