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January 24, 2008

Trojans work to maintain momentum

As Tim Floyd stepped into a Galen Center hallway on Tuesday, he saw about a dozen media types and said, "Last time I saw a crowd this big, I was getting fired by the Bulls."

Despite brewing curiosity as to whether O.J. Mayo committed a minor NCAA violation by accepting a Lakers-Nuggets ticket from Denver star Carmelo Anthony, USC has the feel of a team riding a tidal wave of momentum, even if it's just a two-game winning streak.

"It may be fool's gold, but they've worked hard," Floyd said, two practices removed from the Trojans' upset of No. 4 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion.

Today, USC (11-6, 2-3 Pac-10) plays at Oregon State - a team that dismissed its coach, Jay John, and forward C.J. Giles earlier in the week. Floyd said John had the Beavers (6-12, 0-6) playing hard, but he expects even more from them tonight.

"I remember losing my job with the Bulls," Floyd said, preparing to draw another parallel. "And it was like, 'God, we're glad he's gone. We're going to go show him it was his fault.'

"For three games, they just played their tails off and beat everybody, and then they kind of reverted back. It (playing a team that just lost its coach) can be a heck of a trap."

Last week, the Trojans dunked and laid-up their way to the 72-63 victory at UCLA, shooting 60.9 percent from the field, with 44 points in the paint. The occasion caused some returnees to recall last year's first big road victory.

After a 1-1 start to Pac-10 play in 2007, USC traveled to Eugene, Ore., and defeated the 13-0 Ducks, 84-82, on the hostile McArthur Court.

"That was kind of the spark of the season pretty much," sophomore guard Daniel Hackett said. "Hopefully this (the UCLA victory) will be one of the big steps that we take toward the (NCAA) Tournament."

With a starting lineup that features three sophomores and two freshman, Floyd tried to set an achievable goal for the beginning of conference play, keeping in mind that only two of the Trojans first seven games would be at home.

He set the bar at a 3-4. Once USC lost its first three conference games, reaching that record did not look promising. Yet, after improving to 2-3 with the dramatic victory at Pauley, USC could one-up Floyd's benchmark with a two-game sweep in Oregon.

"Now Coach sees that we can play as a team, we can defend well, execute well on both ends of the floor," Mayo said. "So that's what he expects out of us every game."

Floyd's major concern: The Trojans have been out-rebounded in each Pac-10 contest.

UCLA grabbed nine more rebounds than USC and had a 25-8 advantage in offensive rebounds. The Trojans were fortunate that UCLA missed numerous put-backs.

"Chances are we can do a lot of things well, but if we don't rebound off the board, we're going to have some off nights," Floyd said.

He said the perception of his team is liable to get "out of whack," because the Trojans made an abnormally high percentage of shots in Westwood. But a lot of those shots - the five dunks, the numerous lay-ups - are the kind that don't run cold.

"That ball was moving," said Hackett, who had eight assists. "And as long as that ball moves, I think everybody's going to be able to get good looks and be happy."

Tonight, the Trojans figure to survive if they can keep their minds off Saturday's return to McArthur Court. After all, how many reminders of the 2001-02 can Floyd really take?

Make sure to check out reporter Jonathan Kay's live blog from every home USC basketball game on the TroyHoops.com basketball message board.


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