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March 9, 2007Nick Young showed right away that he should be playing at the Staples Center more than once a year. He'll probably have that opportunity as an NBA player next year.
But he was also too good to let his team go one-and-done in this arena for the second year in a row.
USC (22-10, 11-7) overcame its woes at the Staples Center, winning its first postseason game since 2003 by overcoming an 11-point halftime deficit to nip Stanford (18-12, 10-8) in overtime, 83-79, on Thursday night in the first round of the Pacific-10 Conference tournament.
The win also virtually clinched a berth to the NCAA tournament.
"For the first time I can relax and know I'm in the tournament," Young said. "We lost some big games down the stretch and we could have been heading for the NIT."
After starting its first two-game losing skid to end the Pac-10 season, Young did his best impression of favorite player Kobe Bryant, hitting a fadeaway jumper on the baseline to tie the game with 10 seconds left in regulation, 69-69.
"My coaches had confidence in me," Young said. "I was kind of nervous when they called the play but I was able to hit the big shot. I just went for it. Kobe has hit shots like that here."
Taj Gibson preserved the tie, swatting away a game-winning attempt by Anthony Goods near the top of the key just before the buzzer to send it to overtime.
"I knew Goods was gonna get it," Gibson said. "He was their best shooter on the court. Gabe (Pruitt) gave me a look for help and I just jumped up and got the block. It gave us a ton of energy. We felt like we couldn't lose the game after that."
The Trojans led by as much eight in overtime before the Cardinal hit two late 3-pointers, but there was not enough time to complete the comeback.
Young led all scorers with 26 points and made up a four-point deficit in the final 36 seconds of regulation by himself. He also led USC with 12 points in the first half.
"After coming off Washington State and getting called for a charge, I had to redeem myself," Young said.
The Trojans used a 20-7 run late in the second half to take the lead with four minutes and 35 seconds left in the game. USC looked like it had seized momentum when Daniel Hackett hit a four-point play to turn a two-point deficit into a two-point advantage, 65-63, but Stanford responded with six straight points.
Goods had a chance to make it a two-possession game with 29 seconds left, but he missed both free throws to keep USC down by just two. He led Stanford with 19 points off the bench in his first game back from an ankle sprain he suffered Feb. 11.
"When Anthony went down, he was probably one of our top three players," Stanford coach Trent Johnson said. "He is probably more valuable to us than Darren Collison is to UCLA."
The Cardinal lost three of its last four games without Goods, but Floyd believes that should not deter the sixth place team in the Pac-10 from making the NCAA tournament.
"We beat an NCAA tournament team tonight," Floyd said. "It's ridiculous for anybody to start this bubble talk with Stanford."
It looked like the Trojans were the ones who were going to face the bubble talk when Gibson picked up his fourth foul with 14 minutes and one second left in the second half while trailing by 10.
But Gibson still played effectively, harassing Brook Lopez just enough to allow USC to chip away at the lead. Gibson finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks, his first double-double since Jan. 4 at Oregon.
"He's played enough basketball now that he understands game situations and he doesn't have to back off," Floyd said. "A lot of times guys pick up four fouls and they'll just open the door and let guys through."
Gibson held Brook Lopez to just six points.
Gabe Pruitt was one of four Trojans to reach double figures, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to jumpstart that 20-7 run. He finished with 17 points.
Next up for the Trojans will be Washington State on Friday night at the Staples Center.
Kevin Merfeld has covered the Trojans for three years at the Daily Trojan. He is a special contributor to USCFootball.com.