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A spark plug with points

Heavy snow and subzero temperatures in North Dakota this week had Ben Woodside pining for a trip to California, and not only to play against USC.

“I’m looking forward to a little nicer weather,” said the North Dakota State point guard.

USC would be wise to keep Woodside from heating up today at the Galen Center.

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Last week, Woodside scored 60 points against Stephen F. Austin, the most points scored a Division I game in nearly nine years.

The 5-foot-11 senior from Minnesota made 14 of 32 shots and 30 of 35 free throws in a triple-overtime loss, leaving him one point shy of the 61 scored by Eddie House for Arizona State against California in January 2000.

The 60 points were a school and personal record -- Woodside scored 41 points in a high school game, and his career high at North Dakota State had been 39 -- but Woodside said he has always been able to draw fouls.

“It’s typical of my game,” he said in a phone interview. “I get to the free-throw line a lot. That’s what I do. I attack the rim as hard as I can . . . I’ve always been kind of hard-nosed.

“Growing up, I had a tendency to always have a quicker step right off the bat than most people suspect.”

USC is well aware of Woodside and a Bison team that scored 111 points in its one-point loss to Stephen F. Austin and 98 the next night in a 21-point victory over Georgia Southern.

North Dakota State, 6-3 after an 83-61 victory Thursday against Valley City State, averages 89.4 points a game and started the week ranked third nationally in scoring average.

“You think they’re just pushing it and trapping and pressing and all that but they’re not,” USC Coach Tim Floyd said. “They just come down and methodically execute.”

USC (6-3) is looking to improve its own execution, particularly on defense, after nearly blowing a 23-point lead in Monday’s victory over Pepperdine. Lapses and turnovers allowed the Waves to drive the lane before passing to the perimeter for wide-open three-point shots.

Said Floyd after the game, referencing Woodside, “If he had been on the floor tonight he might have gotten 80.”

Point guard Daniel Hackett, who declined to speak to reporters after the Pepperdine game, explained his silence a few days later.

“Our defensive transition was as bad as it’s been in the three years I’ve been here so that’s why I was upset,” Hackett said. “We were not communicating, thinking the game was going to be a cupcake. But teams in college will punish you if you come out flat.”

The 6-5 Hackett is expected to start today’s game guarding Woodside, who averages 25.9 points a game, third in NCAA Division I, and is accustomed to drawing defenders of all sizes.

Woodside, however, is only one of North Dakota State’s scorers. Senior forward Brett Winkelman averages 18.7 points and 8.1 rebounds, senior guard Mike Nelson 13.7 points.

“Everyone knows their role,” Woodside said. “We have a lot of players that can do a lot of different things.”

And one thing, mainly.

Woodside, at 47%, is the only starter shooting less than 52%.

“They don’t put a guy on the floor that can’t shoot,” Floyd said.

Etc.

USC’s Marcus Johnson, a transfer from Connecticut, will not be eligible to participate in games until Dec. 29, Floyd said. That means Johnson will sit out three more games before the Trojans’ Pacific 10 Conference opener Jan. 2 at Oregon. . . . USC plays Georgia Tech on Monday and Oral Roberts on Dec. 28, both at the Galen Center.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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USC today

VS. NORTH DAKOTA STATE

Time: noon

Site: Galen Center.

Radio: 710.

Records: USC 6-3, North Dakota State 6-3.

Update: This is the second of four consecutive home games for the Trojans before their Jan. 2 Pacific 10 Conference opener at Oregon. USC is coming off a 91-77 victory over Pepperdine, a game marked by another second-half collapse that nearly erased a 23-point halftime lead. North Dakota State defeated Valley City (N.D.) State, 83-61, Thursday night. The Bison are led by point guard Ben Woodside, who averages 25.9 points a game and scored 60 against Stephen F. Austin on Dec. 12.

-- Gary Klein


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