USC wins pick-up game
He wasn’t smiling anymore.
Coming out of a timeout with his team trailing Stanford by double digits midway through the second half Thursday night, Gabe Pruitt glowered at his USC teammates, a rarity for a player so agreeable that he had been nicknamed Smilin’ Gabe.
“You could kind of see it in guys’ eyes, that they were getting ready to get a little soft there,” said Pruitt, a junior guard. “I couldn’t let that happen. I had to get the fire going.”
Pruitt touched off an inferno by scoring seven consecutive points to help the third-seeded Trojans rally and force overtime, where they pulled out an 83-79 victory over sixth-seeded Stanford in a Pacific Life Pac-10 tournament quarterfinal at Staples Center.
USC (22-10) will face Washington State in a semifinal at 8:30 tonight. The Cougars defeated Washington, 74-64, in Thursday night’s late game.
Coach Tim Floyd helped shake the Trojans out of a defensive funk by berating them during a timeout after Stanford guard Fred Washington had raced past counterpart Dwight Lewis for a layup that gave the Cardinal (18-12) a 52-41 lead with 12 minutes 43 seconds remaining.
Pruitt came out of the timeout and made a three-point shot, then drew a foul on a three-point attempt and made all three free throws before following with another free throw. Later, his three-pointer with 5:14 to go drew USC into a 59-59 tie, the first time the Trojans hadn’t trailed since midway through the first half.
The teams traded baskets until USC junior swingman Nick Young made a fade-away jumper with 10 seconds left to tie it, 69-69. Then freshman forward Taj Gibson blocked a pull-up jumper by Stanford guard Anthony Goods to help force overtime.
“A lot of heart,” Gibson said of the Trojans. “A lot of heart.”
In overtime, senior guard Lodrick Stewart, who had not been much of a factor for the first 40 minutes, came up big with four points and a steal to help USC pull away. Stewart “came in and kind of pitched great closing relief,” Floyd said. “Three big boards, two big shots.”
After Stanford freshman center Brook Lopez followed his miss with a one-handed dunk to pull the Cardinal to within a point, 74-73, with 1:15 left, Stewart drove into the lane for a layup.
Pruitt followed with a steal and a layup to make it 78-73, and the Trojans made five of six free throws in the final 21 seconds to secure their first Pac-10 tournament victory since 2003.
Young finished with 26 points and Pruitt had 17 for the Trojans. Gibson notched his first double-double since Jan. 4 with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Stanford built its double-digit lead without the expected scoring contributions from the Lopez twins and standout forward Lawrence Hill, who combined for only 15 points, 21 below their averages. Hill had to leave the game early in overtime with a sprained ankle.
Goods, who missed the Cardinal’s last six games because of a sprained ankle, had 19 points and guard Landry Fields added 15.
Then there was Washington, who scored all 12 of his points in the second half and overtime. When the former Bishop Montgomery High star beat Lewis off the dribble, an irate Floyd called timeout and pulled Lewis in favor of freshman Daniel Hackett.
“I just made the point that I wasn’t going to leave anybody out there if they couldn’t understand the game, that we weren’t going to catch up unless we got stops,” Floyd said.
That was also about the time that Young saw Pruitt’s demeanor change. “When we got down, he kind of said, ‘This is it,’ ” Young said. “That’s when I knew it was time to play basketball. He picked it up, I picked it up and everybody started playing well.”
An early conference tournament exit on the heels of consecutive losses to end the regular season would have left USC facing the prospect of finding out whether some faraway NCAA tournament destination such as Buffalo, N.Y., or Winston-Salem, N.C., was nice this time of year.
Pruitt wasn’t interested in that possibility -- or worse.
“All year we’ve been making history, and this was another opportunity,” he said. “It’s not set that we’re in the NCAA tournament, so I just knew this was an opportunity to keep moving on.”