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It’s all about the team when it comes to Trojans

USC’s top achievement Friday was managing to look better than Kevin Durant.

Not better in an impress-the-pro-scouts way. Better in an advance-in-the-NCAA-tournament sense, with a cohesive team effort that has me thinking the Trojans will get some Rose Bowl revenge and beat Texas when they play Sunday in the second round of the East Regional.

The Trojans, seeded No. 5, did everything an odds-on favorite is supposed to Friday, establishing control of the game and handling No. 12-seeded Arkansas with ease, 77-60.

USC Coach Tim Floyd was most impressed with the way his team held Arkansas to 36.8% shooting from the field, calling it “as good a defense as we’ve played this year.”

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It’s the right time of the season to break that out.

Offensively, USC committed only four turnovers in the first half, then shot 62% in the second half. The Trojans made 23 of 25 free throws.

Taj Gibson drove around whatever taller Arkansas defender guarded him on his way to 18 points. Daniel Hackett pushed the ball with a purpose, affecting the game far beyond his eight points, six rebounds and five assists, staying aggressive long after the outcome had been determined.

“Daniel Hackett was, at times, the most intense player on the floor,” Floyd said.

The most encouraging thing for the Trojans is they won handily despite an off night from top scorer Nick Young, who shot five for 13.

The tournament rookie admitted, “I was a little nervous in the beginning. First time playing in an environment like this.”

Of Young’s first five shots, one was blocked, another was an airball and a third was impeded by the bottom of the backboard. At halftime he was two for eight and the Trojans still had an 11-point lead.

The Trojans played together, doing just about everything you could ask of them.

And that was the difference between them and the Longhorns, who beat New Mexico State in a game that was closer for longer than it should have been. Texas blew a 14-point lead and actually trailed with six minutes left before putting the Aggies away, 79-67.

It’s not that Durant was a disappointment. In person he’s just like on TV: skinny and unstoppable. The same smooth shooting stroke and quickness mixed with some Kevin McHale low-post moves. Yes, he’s all that. The only thing that caught me off-guard was how big his feet are, which makes me wonder if the 6-foot-9, 18-year-old still has some growing to do.

The frustrating thing is that THE LONGHORNS WON’T LET HIM DOMINATE THE GAME. Sorry for the caps, but I need to vent somehow. I’m afraid if I scream “GET THE BALL TO DURANT!” from press row they’ll revoke my credential.

Durant still did his thing, scoring 27 points, grabbing eight rebounds and making three steals. You just wonder how much more he could do if college players had the pro mind-set to always look for the best matchup.

Durant didn’t even touch the ball in the frontcourt on Texas’ first four possessions. Could you imagine last year’s Texas football team going that long without letting Vince Young do his thing?

Instead we get guards overdribbling, jacking up three-pointers. There were too many Texas possessions that ended with the Spanish-broadcast announcer two seats down from me saying: “Para tres ... nada!

One time D.J. Augustin even shot a three-pointer ... coming out of a timeout. Please tell me that wasn’t called in the huddle.

Whatever Coach Rick Barnes is calling, it’s not Durant’s No. 35 often enough.

Funny moment: at one point after a bad Durant backcourt turnover, Barnes called him over and looked at him as if to say, “What are you doing?” If I’m Durant, I’m giving Barnes that same look every time I come to the sidelines.

Durant’s a modest kid, though, and he’d never show up his coach or try to hog the glory.

“I don’t have to have the ball every possession,” he said.

OK, how about every other possession? Because good things happen when he does get it.

With New Mexico State Coach Reggie Theus (easily the most stylish coach in the tournament, with a shadow-striped black suit, black shirt, black tie and black handkerchief) sending more double teams in the second half, Durant had to pass more. But just getting him the ball in the first place opened things up for the Longhorns. The second defender on him couldn’t get back in time to protect the lanes, and the guards could sail to the basket.

USC’s Young laughed when Gibson was asked about guarding Durant, as if to say, “Good luck, buddy.”

Floyd hinted that it might not be Gibson’s task. Really, it should be Gibson plus others.

The Trojans said they respected the rest of the Longhorns. True, they’re good players and all that.

But Durant, as Floyd said, “May be the best individual who’s been in college basketball in many years.”

The thing is, it’s not an individual sport -- and the Trojans looked to be the better team.

J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Adande go to latimes.com/adande.


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