Dispatch from Pac-10 Land
by Phil Kasiecki
Friday’s Pac Ten semifinal matchups both came down to the final minutes, setting the stage for what should be a great championship game on Saturday. Both games featured two teams relatively evenly matched, just like the championship game will.
In the first semifinal, USC took advantage of Oregon’s offense going to sleep in the second half to take over the game and win going away. The game started at a frenetic pace with both teams not missing, as they combined for 27 points in the first four minutes of play. Oregon got hot later in the half en route to shooting over 52 percent, but the Trojans stayed right with them thanks largely to Desmon Farmer’s efforts off the bench.
They took the lead early in the second half before Frederick Jones, who led the Ducks with 20 points, picked up his fourth foul with under 10 minutes to play. After that, the Ducks’ offense went to sleep without their star wing, who was shooting the ball well and is their best at scoring off the dribble. The Ducks did not move the ball or try to get it inside, and USC ran off 12 straight points as part of a 20-3 run to take the lead for good.
Oregon had 21 turnovers, nine of them by Luke Ridnour. The Ducks broke the Trojans’ press consistently in the first half, but had trouble doing so in the second half. Another key for USC was balance, as it was in their quarterfinal game: six players were in double figures and no one had more than 17 points (Brandon Granville and Farmer each had that total).
In the nightcap, Arizona led wire to wire, but couldn’t put California away until the final minutes as they advanced to the championship game against USC. The Wildcats started fast and furious against the best defensive team in the conference, but Brian Wethers (22 points) did much to keep them within striking distance in the first half. After Jason Gardner (25 points) cooled off in the second half, Luke Walton (20 points, 6 assists, 6 steals) picked up the slack and kept the Wildcats ahead as they once led by 15 points before the Golden Bears battled back behind the solid play of Joe Shipp (25 points).
Looking ahead to the championship game, USC looks tough to beat in this game of evenly-matched teams. The Trojans are playing like a team on a mission, which is exactly how the team they knocked off in the semifinals came to Los Angeles since they surprised many by winning the Pac Ten regular season title. USC has had excellent balance and has been energized by their bench in both games. The Wildcats, on the other hand, won an ugly one against in-state rival Arizona State and beat California with an effort that was good, but not as impressive as USC has been. USC is more experienced and better equipped for a running game; if transition becomes the order of the day, the Trojans will be in great shape. The Wildcats are capable of playing an up-tempo game, but that is not their preferred style.
Prediction: USC should continue their roll in this one. Arizona won’t make it easy, but the Trojans have been playing too well of late to leave the Staples Center with a loss.