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March 9, 2009

Trojans Resist the Beaver Bite

Daniel Hackett led a low-scoring affair with 17 points and Demar DeRozan added 16 points to exact some revenge on the Oregon State Beavers.

With the "just like football" chants from their loss at Oregon State fresh in the heads of the Trojans, they looked to get back at the Beavers with a much needed win.

Just as Oregon did, the Oregon State ducks opened the game in a different defensive look. The Beavers came out in a 1-3-1 zone looking to make the Trojans a jump-shooting team.

The Trojans struggled to find a rhythm against the zone, and couldn't find any open lanes to penetrate. They turned into a passing team and tried to move the ball quickly to find holes in the Beaver defense.

Both teams struggled in feeling each other out. The Trojans and Beavers combined for a mere six points in the first five minutes of play. Saying both teams were patient would be an understatement, as they seemed almost reluctant to shoot the ball.

"I think they did a good job on us defensively in the first half," said Coach Tim Floyd. "It was hard for us to get anything going and get good looks at the basket because they always had a hand in our face."

Another factor in the slow start was the physical play both teams opened with. Looking to establish an inside presence, both teams were fighting for position on the inside and the big men spared no elbows in the fight for the post.

Taj Gibson looked good out of the gate as he got the better of the big man matchup early. Gibson had six of the first eight USC points including two dunks. Roeland Schaftenaar had a tougher time getting established for the Beavers even though he was isolated in the post for the majority of the half.

"I just tried to stay active in the paint," said Gibson, who finished with 16 points on the night. "They made it hard to get the ball inside, but when I got it I made sure to take advantage."

The Trojans looked well-prepared for the Princeton offense that doomed them in the first meeting between these two teams. The most dangerous aspect of the Princeton-style offense is the back cut.

It is easy for a defender to get caught leaning in the wrong direction anticipating a screen. The Trojans stayed disciplined in squaring up with their men and being physical with cutters to prevent being caught sleeping.

"This is a difficult team to prepare for in just 24 hours," said Floyd. "The offense they run forces you to do things you wouldn't normally do defensively, but I think we were dialed in and did a good job defensively."

The pace remained slow as USC and Oregon State had a combined total of 26 points with 4:30 remaining in the half. This is a total more suitable for a single team going into the half, but even that would be somewhat of a low score.

The patient nature of the Beaver's offense and the Trojan's emphasis on ball movement in looking a quality shot against the zone were accountable for the low scoring.

Games of this speed can be hard on teams that thrive in the open court such as the Trojans. The fans find it hard to get into the game with no exciting plays to ogle over as strategy neutralizes athletic ability. With no energy from the fans, it can be hard for players to get going. It is a negative feedback loop that can just kill a game.

The Trojans took a four-point advantage into the locker room due to a few aggressive plays at the end of the half that got them to the free-throw line.

The scoring pace picked up considerably in the second, especially for the Beavers as they went on an 8-2 run. Oregon State came out looking to be much more aggressive and establish Shaftenaar on the inside.
The Trojans answered the Beavers aggressive start with more assertive play of their own. They abandoned the passing approach they took to attacking the zone for dribble penetration.

"We needed more penetration, plain and simple," said Hackett. "We were moving the ball around a lot but it wasn't really working. Once we started trying to attack [off the dribble] we got things going."

This switch in style sparked a 9-point lead at the midway point of the second half. Demar DeRozan got a chance to get out in the open floor, and he came on in the key moments of the run. DeRozan has a knack for coming on strong in crucial points of games.

Leonard Washington got into the act as well with a steal and dunk of his own in transition and the Trojans were rolling. They forced turnovers from the Beavers and took advantage by outleting the ball quickly.

The Trojans could get much more running opportunities if their guards were more aggressive rebounding the ball. USC's guards are bigger than most and have the ability to rebound the ball effectively, but they seldom use this advantage. If they hit the boards more aggressively, they could facilitate the fast break much quicker and not have to wait for an outlet pass from a big man.

The Trojans were by no means struggling for offensive production, as they opened up a 17-point lead with three minutes remaining in the game at 56-39. At this point they had doubled the amount of points they scored in the first half.

The Beavers seemed to panic, taking long three-pointers and getting away from the patience they displayed offensively in the first half. This played right into the Trojans' hands as quick shots with long rebounds can start fastbreaks as quickly as turnovers.

Floyd then emptied the bench a bit, and there was a Beaver run, but the game was too far out of reach.

Photos: Trojans and Beavers

All photos by Jonathan Moore - jjmoorephoto.com

DeMar DeRozan highlights/interviews by Emily Nerland

Keith Wilkinson highlights/interview by Michelle Phalen


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