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December 22, 2007

Gibson back strong, as Trojans cruise

After another efficient blowout of another undermanned team, talk turned to the challenges USC would begin to face two games down the road - when Pac-10 play begins.

First, it's the California Golden Bears, who might have the best frontcourt in the country, USC coach Tim Floyd said. If not, the Trojans are at Stanford two days later. Perhaps the Cardinal has the top front line, he said. And, Floyd added, don't forget about UCLA.

How are the Trojans to compete? Great guard play and quickness, in part. But a healthy Taj Gibson at center could help just as much. The sophomore from Brooklyn played his best game in a month, Saturday, during USC's 78-55 defeat of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.

"He seemed to play with a lot more confidence, which is real encouraging heading into Pac-10 play," Floyd said.

Gibson scored nine points on 3-of-4 shooting and grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds in only 25 minutes. He finally appears to be moving well on his sprained ankle, aided by 13 days off for rest and rehabilitation, between the Dec. 4 game against Memphis and Monday's victory over Delaware State.

"I felt a little better in my ankle, just getting off my feet a lot quicker," Gibson said. "I'm used to just getting off and tracking the ball down. It kind of limited me, because it was so tender at times, where I couldn't really get the ball and move a certain way."

Along with Gibson, the Trojans continued to move the ball - and their feet - on offense, for another efficient night. USC shot 53.8-percent from the field, including 8-of-14 (57.1 percent) from 3-point range.

Daniel Hackett made his first of a game-high three 3-pointers, 5:47 into the contest. That put USC ahead, 14-13, and the Trojans never trailed again.

Hackett led all scorers with 19 points and O.J. Mayo had 18, on 6-of-10 from the field. After sinking fewer than 30 percent of a combined 41 shots in losses to Kansas and Memphis, Mayo shot less and converted at a better rate this week.

He did not attempt a field goal through the first seven minutes Saturday, after scoring 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting against Delaware State.

"I think it was just, as a team, maybe seeing some areas we were poor in, in our three losses," Mayo said. "It's all about just getting better, and getting older and getting more mature, as the season goes along."

Floyd said the freshman is taking better shots, as the whole offense has been set in motion. The Trojans no longer stop and stare at the guy with the ball.

"What we're seeing now is guys relying on cutting, and the next pass, and playing off the dribble and making great decisions," Floyd said. "I know we're not playing against the same caliber opponent, but we couldn't have done this against Kansas or Memphis, because of where we were in that stage of our development."

Defensively, USC (8-3) has held opponents below 63 points in eight-straight games. The Trojans have not done that since 1950, according to the Associated Press.

Poly (5-6) took half of its 60 shots from 3-point range, making only six (20 percent). But the Mustangs made half (15) of their shots inside the arc.

USC's primary complaint - interior defense. Floyd said his team allowed the Poly big men to get too deep inside the zone.

"We just have to get down low and work," Gibson said, before turning the conversation toward the Pac-10's opening weekend and the inside players from Stanford and Cal.

"The team we played today had a lot of good post-up guys, but they won't be as big as the Lopez twins, the (DeVon) Hardins and the Ryan Andersons," he said.

NOTED: Mayo said he wore a sleeve on his left elbow, because he slept in an awkward position on the arm. … The team is off until 3 p.m. on Dec. 26, but Mayo said he would not be returning home to West Virginia for Christmas. "I'm going to stay and work out," he said.

Make sure to check out reporter Jonathan Kay's live blog from every home USC basketball game on the TroyHoops.com basketball message board.


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