LOS ANGELES (AP)—While No. 25 Southern California has several players with obvious talent on offense, the emphasis in practice is on defense.
That’s the way Tim Floyd coaches, and the Trojans wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We pride ourselves on our defense,” forward Dwight Lewis said after the Trojans held their eighth straight opponent to 62 points or fewer in a 78-55 victory over Cal Poly on Saturday night.
“That’s our identity right now,” center Taj Gibson said. “We like to play defense.”
USC hadn’t held eight consecutive opponents to 62 points or fewer since a similar eight-game stretch from Dec. 2-28, 1950.
“They didn’t have 3-point shots then, either,” freshman star O.J. Mayo said with a smile. “Coach Floyd does a great job emphasizing defense. I’d say 85 or 90 percent of our time in practice is spent on defense.”
Daniel Hackett scored 19 points and Mayo added 18 points and a career-high six assists for the Trojans, who avenged a 93-78 Cal Poly victory exactly four years ago Saturday in the only previous game between the teams.
Lewis scored 13 points and Gibson had nine points and 13 rebounds.
“We were worried about this game going in,” Floyd said. “Cal Poly was picked to win the Big West, so we treated this like a Pac-10 game. Hackett got us off to a good start. O.J. was playing unselfishly and took great shots.
“We like where we are right now. More important than winning and losing is we’re getting better.”
The Trojans (8-3) lost by four points in consecutive games to No. 3 Kansas and No. 2 Memphis earlier this month. They have one more game, against UC Riverside next Saturday night, before opening Pac-10 play on Jan. 3 at California.
“This league is so strong,” Floyd said. “It’s a league where you could have five or six losses and win the league.”
Dawin Whiten and Titus Shelton led Cal Poly (5-6) with 12 points each. Matt Hanson added nine points and nine rebounds for the Mustangs.
The Trojans clinched the victory by outscoring the Mustangs 11-1 in the first three minutes of the second half for a 49-27 lead. Cal Poly wasn’t closer than 17 points after that.
USC shot 28-of-52 including 8-of-14 from 3-point range, while Cal Poly was 21-of-60 and just 6-of-30 from beyond the arc. The Trojans outrebounded the Mustangs 39-31.
“USC did everything we had expected,” Cal Poly coach Kevin Bromley said. “They’re athletic enough to play with anybody in the country. Their team speed is terrific. They’re just young. The mistakes they make are young mistakes.”
The Trojans start two freshmen (Mayo and Davon Jefferson) and three sophomores (Hackett, Lewis and Gibson).
Bromley is not surprised the Trojans are getting it done on defense, noting that’s the way Floyd has always coached.
“He’s really good about playing transition defense,” Bromley said. “They never give anything cheap down at the other end. Tim’s teams are always like that. They take away easy baskets.”
Hanson made two 3-pointers and another field goal in the first two minutes to single-handedly put the Mustangs ahead 8-4.
Hanson, a 6-foot-7 senior who entered with a 9.3-point average, would score only one point after that—a foul shot early in the second half.
The Mustangs led 10-5 when USC suddenly took command. Hackett scored 12 points and Mayo added seven during a 26-8 run that gave the Trojans a 31-18 lead. It was 38-26 at halftime.
“We haven’t been shooting the ball well recently,” Hanson said. “We just need to get some better shots or do something different with our offense. What our team needs is to go inside a little more.”
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