Trojans One Win Away From NCAA Tournament Berth

March 15, 2003

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AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES - Just a week ago, Southern California needed to beat Washington State just to qualify for the Pac-10 Conference tournament.

Now, they're one win away from an improbable berth in the NCAA tournament.

Desmon Farmer scored 23 points and the seventh-seeded Trojans led all the way in beating No. 24 California 79-62 Friday night.

The Trojans (13-16) will face Oregon in Saturday's championship game at Staples Center. The fifth-seeded Ducks (22-9) advanced by outscoring UCLA 13-1 in the last three minutes for a 75-74 victory.

'It's our chance to get to the Big Dance,' Farmer said with a wide grin. 'Everyone wants to get there. We're ready to roll, we're not worried about losing.'

USC lost seven straight games before beating Washington State 86-68 in its regular-season finale to lock up a berth in the tournament. The Trojans upset No. 15 Stanford 79-74 in the first round.

'We've played well all year,' USC coach Henry Bibby said. 'I thought we had a chance to beat Stanford twice and I thought we had a chance to beat Cal twice. It didn't work out.

'We've played with a lot of young players. It's a new season, anything can happen. I think we're going in with a lot of momentum.'

The Trojans reached the conference final last year, losing to Arizona 81-71 in the championship game.

'We went in last year with a better basketball team,' Bibby admitted. 'This one's playing harder, though.'

Snubbed for the 10-member all-conference team despite being the league's fourth-leading scorer, Farmer also had five rebounds, five assists and two steals in 28 minutes.

Jerry Dupree had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Trojans and brought the announced crowd of 16,689 to its feet with several impressive dunks.

'I feel right now the tournament is ours,' he said.

Derrick Craven added 11 points and five steals and Rory O'Neil and Robert Hutchinson scored 10 points each for USC, which committed only eight turnovers while forcing 21.

'I knew we had a good basketball team, we've shown signs of it,' O'Neil said. 'We knew we had to play our best ball in the tournament. If we play defense and rebound, we feel like we can beat anybody,'

Joe Shipp led the short-handed Bears (21-8) with 19 points - all but three in the second half. Amit Tamir and Richard Midgley added 10 points apiece.

'I feel right now the tournament is ours.'

Brian Wethers, Cal's third-leading scorer with a 15.2-point average, scored five points in 12 minutes. He sat out the second half because of tendinitis in his right Achilles' tendon.

The third-seeded Bears also played without reserve guard A.J. Diggs, who sprained his left ankle in the second half of Cal's 69-46 first-round victory over Oregon State.

'USC is a high-energy team, our two high-energy guys were sitting on the bench,' Cal coach Ben Braun said, referring to Wethers and Diggs. 'Those guys have played some of their best basketball against USC.'

Shipp didn't hide his disappointment after USC snapped a four-game losing streak to Cal and beat the Bears for just the third time in the last 13 games between the teams.

'We were so close, we had two guys that were injured and that really affected us,' he said. 'We haven't had two guys out before.'

USC lost seven straight games before beating Washington State 86-68 in its regular-season finale to lock up a berth in the tournament. The Trojans upset No. 15 Stanford 79-74 in the first round.

The Bears are a lock to be selected for the NCAA tournament despite this loss.

A 3-pointer by O'Neil with 15:07 remaining gave the Trojans a 52-33 lead, but Shipp, the Pac-10's scoring leader, scored seven straight to draw Cal within 12.

USC scored the next six points for a 58-40 lead, and the Bears didn't threaten again. The Trojans led by as many as 24 points.

USC took a 14-4 lead in the opening 6� minutes, and a basket by O'Neil made it 18-6 midway through the first half.

Midgley scored five points during a 9-0 run that moved the Bears within three, but the Trojans responded by outscoring the Bears 15-2 for a 33-17 lead. Farmer, Hutchinson, O'Neil and Roy Smiley made 3-pointers during the spurt.

Shipp, who has scored in double figures in each of Cal's 29 games, made a 3-pointer for his first points with 3:22 left before halftime, cutting USC's lead to 36-24.

It was 39-27 at halftime.

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