USC showed, once again, that it's not deep enough to play its best without a healthy Daniel Hackett. This time, though, the Trojans won, and Hackett made a surprise contribution.
The sophomore guard's most-meaningful statistic: 18 minutes.
Hackett managed to start Saturday's game against Arizona State and hobbled through his time on the court – alternately grimacing and clutching below his right hip, where a bulky pad protected his deep pelvis bruise.
The sophomore guard took two shots and scored two points, but with his presence in the lineup, other players got the chance to rest. Instead of wilting down the stretch, as USC did Thursday, a fresher Trojans team turned a tenuous late lead into a 67-53 victory.
"He couldn't run, couldn't do anything, couldn't jump," coach Tim Floyd said of Hackett. "But he helped us. He had a settling effect. … We were able to give guys a couple of minutes (rest), and, as a result, we were able to finish this game. We were able to rebound late, we were able to fight through screens late."
Sophomore center Taj Gibson dominated inside during the first half; an ensemble contributed after Sun Devils star James Harden picked up his fourth foul; and O.J. Mayo sparked the Trojans late, scoring 13 of his team-high 20 points in the final 12:13.
"We really wanted to try to attack the rim, try to get to the heart of the defense, try to get some open threes," Mayo said.
Harden, who scored a game-high 26 points on 8-of-9 from the field and 7-of-8 from the foul line, picked up four fouls in the first 4:03 of the second half. Soon after he sat down, Mayo went on a personal 7-0 run to help USC to an 11-point lead. When ASU cut the deficit to six points with 2:54 left, Mayo scored the next two baskets, to give USC another double-digit cushion.
Gibson led the Trojans to a 30-26 halftime advantage, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the first half. He also blocked four ASU shots and had five offensive rebounds.
"Taj played as well as he's played since he's been here," Floyd said. "Really helped everybody else all night long. A lot of it won't show up on the stat sheet, but (he) filled on all their penetration. He ended up with four blocks but changed a lot of other shots."
The Trojans (14-7, 5-4 Pac-10) moved into a three-way tie for third place in the conference, with Washington State and Arizona. For the first time in nine Pac-10 games, USC out-rebounded its opponent, 29-21. The Trojans had not done so since the Nov. 22 game against Cal Poly.
Davon Jefferson, who said the team lost focus in a sloppy rebounding effort against Arizona, led USC with nine rebounds.
Floyd also praised his defense, which held the Sun Devils (14-7, 4-5) to 40-percent shooting and managed to slow down everyone but Harden, who slowed himself down with the fouls.
Hackett, generally one of the team's top defenders, got burned by Harden on a couple of 3-pointers, because the Trojans guard had trouble moving laterally. As the game progressed, Hackett switched and spent more time on ASU's Derek Glasser.
"It was painful," Hackett said of his injury. He said he decided to play during warm-ups, despite discomfort jumping and taking lay-ups.
"I was comfortable doing the little things, like dribbling and passing and shooting," he said, heaping praise upon the trainers for getting him ready. "I was able to do some basic things out there and not hurt the team."
Gibson, Hackett's roommate, said he was surprised to see the guard on the court.
"Last night, the way he was feeling, the way I saw him – I didn't think he was going to play," Gibson said. "He was here all morning, all the way until game time. He just kept working on it. … He felt it, but he just kept playing."
Jonathan Kay can be reached at Jon@USCFootball.com