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Lewis strives for good defense

Times Staff Writer

Dwight Lewis made only two of eight shots against Oregon State on Thursday and scored five points.

Two days later, the USC sophomore guard made eight of 14 shots against Oregon and finished with a career-high 24 points.

Guess which game Lewis was raving about Monday?

Not the one against the Ducks.

“I just scored a lot of points,” Lewis said. “It really wasn’t one of my best games. I still could have done more to stop Malik [Hairston] from getting his buckets. I feel I have my best games when I stop the other team’s best player.”

If that’s the case, then Lewis had a gem against the Beavers, when he held sophomore guard Seth Tarver to two points on one-for-nine shooting. Tarver began the game as Oregon State’s leading scorer, averaging 12 points.

Even though he’s averaging 11.4 points to nearly double his scoring output from last season, Lewis’ biggest improvement has been his effort on defense.

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“He’s a guy that’s learning that to play at this level, he has to play harder than he did at the high school level,” Coach Tim Floyd said. “There was a growth period that we had to go through with him to get him to fully understand how important that was, and it continued into the Cal game this year where he struggled against Patrick Christopher and the next [game] didn’t start over at Stanford. But from that point on, he’s been outstanding.”

Lewis also has displayed a penchant for finishing drives to the basket that last season often were blocked. Although Lewis attributed his progression to confidence, Floyd said there was also a tactical element.

“Last year he was a two-footed jumper off of drives and he’d have to gather under two feet to go finish,” Floyd said. “This year, he’s finishing off of one foot, which is not allowing the defense to gather, collect and get to him and putting him in positions where he’s going to the rim and get fouled.”

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Trainer Bobby Walls said he had never seen as many players suffer cramps as he did Saturday during the Trojans’ game against Oregon at McArthur Court. Even freshman guard Angelo Johnson, who played only 11 minutes, was afflicted.

Walls said he thought the cramping, which proved especially troublesome when freshman guard O.J. Mayo had to sit out the last 27 seconds of regulation, resulted from a combination of high humidity and players not putting enough fluid in their bodies.

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Marcus Johnson said he would have to petition the NCAA for a second year of eligibility at USC after the 2008-09 season because he played in one exhibition for Connecticut this season. Johnson said he is paying tuition for the remainder of the 2007-08 academic year and no promises have been made about whether he would be awarded a scholarship next season.

Times blogger Adam Rose contributed to this report.

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ben.bolch@latimes.com


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