USC gets visit from team mom

Times Staff Writer

One sure sign the games are really starting to count for USC: Paulette Francis is showing up in the Trojans’ cheering section.

The mother of USC guard Ryan Francis, who was fatally shot shortly after his freshman season, is expected to be at Staples Center today when the fourth-seeded Trojans play fifth-seeded Arizona State in a Pacific 10 Conference tournament quarterfinal at noon.

The last few times Paulette Francis traveled from her home in Baton Rouge, La., to be with USC, the Trojans were either playing in the NCAA tournament or opening the $130-million Galen Center.


“I’m just glad she’s out here,” sophomore guard Daniel Hackett said. “She was out here last year when we had that run, and spiritually we feel that Ryan is with us.”

Ryan Francis’ legacy is still felt at USC nearly two years after he was killed while riding in a car in his hometown. His jersey number -- 12 -- is emblazoned along the midcourt sideline at the Galen Center, and his locker is a shrine complete with a jersey and a photo of Francis driving toward the basket in a game against North Carolina.

Paulette Francis attended practice Tuesday and visited in the Trojans’ locker room afterward. Coach Tim Floyd has said he wants to keep her a part of the program as long as he’s around.

“I always refer to her as a team mom,” said Hackett, who keeps a picture of himself with Ryan Francis in his room. “We want to keep her close to the team.”

They’d also like to give her a reason to stick around Los Angeles for a few more days.

Even though USC is widely considered a lock for the NCAA tournament, Floyd said it was important to succeed in the Pac-10 tournament.


“Because we want to advance, because we want to be playing well going into the NCAA tournament, because we want to be playing for seeding and on and on,” Floyd said were the responses his players gave him when he asked what was at stake this week.

The Trojans would also like to erase the memory of an ugly 80-66 loss to Arizona State on March 1 in which they were called for a season-high 29 fouls to 14 for the host Sun Devils. Arizona State shot 39 free throws; USC shot 11.

“It’s an opportunity to beat a team that beat us,” said Trojans freshman guard O.J. Mayo, who scored a career-high 37 points in the last meeting.

“We want to survive the first night and see what happens the second night.”

A victory over the Sun Devils probably would put USC into a semifinal against top-seeded UCLA, another team that flustered the Trojans during the Bruins’ 56-46 triumph last month at the Galen Center.

“It doesn’t matter who we play,” USC sophomore guard Dwight Lewis said. “We’ve got to win three games to win the championship.”

And keep Paulette Francis around a little longer.