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February 15, 2010

City Champs

The USC basketball team has heard more than once that all they have left is the regular season. They've heard that they won't play in the postseason. They've also heard that they've never beaten UCLA at the Galen Center. Despite hearing so much about what they couldn't do, USC held on at the end to beat UCLA for the first time ever at the Galen Center, 68-64.

"It ranks up there," Dwight Lewis said. "I don't want to say it's one of the best games ever after winning the Pac-10 title but it's up there. To sweep UCLA and beat them here for the first time, it's up there."

"I'll take any win, anytime, anywhere," Kevin O'Neill said. "From the time I sat in the interview with Mike Garrett, I understood how important it is to beat UCLA. We feel fortunate to win."

Coming into the game leading the conference in shooting percentage, the Bruins (11-13, 6-6 Pac-10) were held to just 39 percent shooting. Crashing the boards was the only way UCLA stayed close, grabbing 21 offensive rebounds to just 25 total rebounds for USC.

"It was hard for Leonard (Washington), Alex (Stepheson) and I to get inside," Nikola Vucevic said. "We didn't do a good job of boxing out. They would shoot the ball and we would just kind of stare at the ball. They did a good job of being aggressive rebounding."

The Trojans (15-9, 7-5 Pac-10) nearly gave away the game at the end. After leading most of the second half, USC fouled two Bruins behind the arc and gave up a tip-in on the foul line they thought was two shots instead of a one-and-one.

"We didn't make it easy at the end," O'Neill said. "If you're going down the stretch and making a list of things you didn't want to do, we did them all."

Dwight Lewis led all scorers with 23 points. Vucevic had seven points and eight rebounds but struggled most of the night alongside starters Mike Gerrity (six points) and Alex Stepheson (seven points). USC had 16 points off its seldom-used bench with Donte Smith providing the biggest spark, scoring 12 points to tie his season and career high.

"Donte Smith played well," O'Neill said. "He wasn't happy with his minutes last week. I put him in the game and he responded."

"We were going through the motions (a bit)," Smith said. "I just knew when he called me on that I was going to provide the energy for us."

The win moved USC into sole possession of third place, a game and a half behind California. Although the team was well aware that they needed help to win their stated goal of a regular season Pac-10 title, the three game winning streak put those thoughts out of mind.

"I'm happy where we're at, now we have to move forward," O'Neill said. "We've got to take these games one at a time and win as many as we can. Then you never know what happens to other people. I was told a long time ago by Jeff Van Gundy, 'Never ever underestimate how screwed up the other teams may be."

The Trojan's next game will be on the road at Washington on Thursday. USC has struggled away from home this year with their only win on the road coming across town against UCLA.

After sweeping the Bruins for the first time in six years however, the Trojans know a little something about doing the unexpected.


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