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February 28, 2013

Now that's more like it

These are the nights that make you happy you chose to be a sportswriter.

When the team you know and like and wish well . . . does just that.

And proves what they can do.

Just as USC's Trojans did in earning a students-rushing-the-court finish at Galen with a double-digit 89-78 win over an outclassed No. 11 Arizona team that beat USC by 24 a month ago in Tucson.

Great win for Bob Cantu. Let's hope this is the tape that gets him that head coaching job we all hope he ends up with. He had them ready to play tonight, ready to start both halves, and ready maybe even more importantly to finish strong.

"This was my goal," Cantu said of taking over as interim coach last month, "to attack . . . attack, to push and score. We just kept playing."

And banished the curse of KO with that 89 points, 39 more than they managed at Arizona and the most they'd scored in regulation all season -- and against the best team they'd faced.

"I knew we had talent," Cantu said, noting that by one ranking, USC has faced the nation's toughest schedule. "I knew it was going to take time to come together . . . the guys stayed together."

But this was hardly the plodding offense that passed and dribbled aimlessly for 30 seconds and then either forced up an out-of-control kicker or turned it over. This was a team on the attack.

"I think that's one of our best strengths, to beat people off the dribble on the first or second pass," said senior Eric Wise who rebounded from his recent slump to score a game-high 22 points on nine-of-12 shooting as one of five Trojans in double figures.

"We can be really good," Wise said, "we can play with anybody."

But just one more Galen game for Wise and senior guard Jio Fontan with Senior Day coming up Saturday against Arizona State.

"It's definitely gone fast," said Wise, a transfer from UC Irvine. "I'm glad I came here."

So is Fontan, but also happy he missed out on the students charging the floor to lift the players up on their shoulders.

"That was a cool celebration," Fontan said. but he was not taking any chances. "I've had enough injuries," he said.

But Saturday, he says so long. Although he said it's "not a game I'm looking forward to. It's going to mean a lot." As has coming to California for the kid from Paterson, N.J. "Not as a basketball player but what it's meant for me as a man."

As a basketball player on this night, he played 37 minutes, clearly was fatigued but scored 12 points with nine assists to counter his seven turnovers. And hounded the Wildcats' touted transfer from Xavier, Mark Lyons, into a one-of-nine shooting night from the field although he hit 12 of 16 free throws.

Arizona did get 30 free throws to USC's 21 but the Trojans converted 17 including 15 of 17 in a 47-point second half that saw them answer every Arizona attempt to get back into the game.

And on a night when their three seven-footers picked up 11 fouls, the trio of Dewayne Dedmon, Omar Oraby and James Blasczyk also scored 11 points on five-of-seven shooting, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked eight shots (Oraby five, Dedmon three) in a combined 35 minutes of seldom-seen dominance that had USC outscoring Arizona 42-32 in the paint.

"Having that depth really pays off," Cantu said, "and having that size at the rim."

Of Cantu's assessment that Arizona "could be a Final Four team," Arizona Coach Sean Miller dismissed that with "we're not a very good team." Not against the Trojans offense on this night.

"When you look at the game, it was about our inability to stop USC. And you have to give USC a lot of credit. They made timely shots and big plays. Sometimes when you play basketball, the O's are bigger than the Xs. My guy can't guard yours. And when that happens, things break down. Tonight was so much of that. Individual players just couldn't guard their players."

Jio agreed. "Player for player, we're up there with the cream of the crop . . . with Arizona and Oregon."

Tonight, they were up above Arizona and it wasn't that close, really, for USC's first win over a ranked team since beating a 10th-ranked Arizona here two years ago.

The Trojans improved to 13-15 (8-7 in the Pac-12) while Arizona dropped to 23-5 (11-5 in the Pac-12).

Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFootball.com. You can reach him at weber@uscfootball.com.


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