The USC men’s basketball team seems to feel right at home at the Galen Center.
The Trojans (14-9, 6-5) used some late-game heroics in front of an energized home crowd to hold off Stanford (10-13, 4-7) on Saturday, withstanding several rallies from the Cardinal en route to a 54-49 victory. The win avenges USC’s one-point loss to Stanford earlier in the season and moves USC into a five-way tie for second place in the Pac-10.
Sophomore center Nikola Vucevic carried much of the Trojans’ offensive load, scoring 18 points and grabbing 14 rebounds, including a late tip-in that gave USC the lead for good. Redshirt senior guard Mike Gerrity added 11 points and sophomore forward Leonard Washington contributed nine points off the bench.
But it was defense that ultimately gave the Trojans the advantage.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” said USC coach Kevin O’Neill. “We really did a great job of executing defensively down the stretch. For us to hold them to 49 [points] and 30 [percent shooting] is really a heck of a job.”
With the exception of Stanford guard Landry Fields — who had 27 points on 10-for-19 shooting — USC was able to largely snuff out the Cardinal attack, limiting all other players to six points or less. This was the seventh game this season that the Trojans — whose defense currently ranks second in the nation in points per game allowed — held their opponent to under 50 points.
USC once again jumped to an early lead in the first half, going on a 9-2 run to start the game. But after trailing by as many as 14, the Cardinal stormed back by scoring 14 consecutive points, at one point leading 23-22. The game remained knotted for the rest of the first half, as USC was only able to take a one-point advantage into the break.
In the second half, USC found its rhythm offensively, pulling out to an eight-point lead capped by a Washington dunk with 14 minutes left to play. But a 12-0 Stanford run, of which Fields scored nine, put the Cardinal back on top late in the game. USC responded with an 8-2 run of its own, but it was not until Vucevic — who couldn’t capitalize on a scoring chance at the end of the game in USC’s loss at Stanford earlier in the season — managed to convert a tip-in with 26 seconds left that was able to secure the victory.
“[O’Neill] always gets on me about [the loss at Stanford], and he always tells me not to use one hand,” Vucevic said of his late-game score. “So this game, he told me to just crash the boards and use two hands and it worked out.”
The Trojans remain one game out of first place, but they were able to jump into a tie for second because of Arizona and Arizona State losses. The loss moves Stanford into last place in the conference.
“It says a lot about our guys, when you go down four like that, to just hang in,” O’Neill said. “We hung in there long enough to get the win and that’s all that really counts. For us, this ended up being a heck of a night.”