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February 7, 2008

Jefferson, Hackett Washington wild cards

The second half begins this weekend with a trip two states north. But Washington will not see the same team tonight that defeated the Huskies, 66-51, on Jan. 12. That's not good for the Trojans, who used the game as a springboard for a four-game win streak.

Saturday, Washington State will not see the same team that it shellacked, 73-58, on Jan. 10. That is good for USC.

A hobbled Daniel Hackett - he of a deep pelvic bruise - equals a limited Trojans team. The sophomore guard did not practice Monday or Tuesday, after managing 18 minutes in Saturday's victory against Arizona State. The Huskies are quicker than the Sun Devils on the perimeter, and Hackett - who has trouble moving laterally, with the injury - struggled, at times, to keep up with ASU.

The Trojans (14-7, 5-4 Pac-10) are not deep enough to lose members of their seven-man rotation, at the midpoint of their conference schedule. They were down a man in the prior meeting with Washington State, after Floyd benched No. 2 scorer Davon Jefferson, saying, "There's a lot of room for growth in Davon."

The difference in the Trojans minus either player is apparent.

Without Hackett, "We're not as adept at driving the ball," Floyd said.

Hackett, the Trojans' assists leader, has the ability to dribble into the lane and: pass out to open teammates; pass in to Taj Gibson; or draw a foul. He is USC's top free-throw shooter at 82.9 percent.

Last week against Arizona, Hackett fell hard on his right side, less than two minutes in. Jefferson and O.J. Mayo kept USC close by sinking several long, contested jumpers. But the Trojans had few open looks, and they could not hang on to the lead. With Hackett limited against Arizona State, USC opened up the outside by forcing the ball underneath to Gibson, throughout the first half.

"If he's not right, he won't be able to play any more (than 18) minutes, because Washington has got great, great quickness and great speed, and they present a lot of problems for you defensively on the perimeter," Floyd said.

But if Hackett has to hobble versus one opponent this weekend, better it be Washington. The Huskies sits at ninth place in the conference, at 3-6. Their biggest threat comes inside, in center Jon Brockman, who leads the Pac-10 in double-doubles and offensive rebounds.

Saturday, the Trojans likely would need more from Hackett, who could match up with Cougars point guard Taylor Rochestie and his 6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio during Pac-10 play.

After the last game against Washington State (17-4, 5-4), Hackett admitted to reporters that the Trojans gave up in the second half. WSU shot for a lower percentage than USC from the field, but the Cougars sunk 10-of-19 3-pointers and 13-of-18 free throws. USC made it to the foul line only four times. And, of course, without Jefferson, the Trojans were hamstrung on offense.

"We felt it could have been a lot different (had Jefferson played)," Gibson said. "We didn't really have that many bodies. … A lot of guys were just frustrated. But, hopefully we can turn it around and come up there and try to get a win on their home court."

The road is Jefferson's preferred venue, as he has proclaimed often, since leading USC to its upset of UCLA, scoring 25 points at Pauley Pavilion. Jefferson feeds off the energy of a booing crowd, he says, and makes a habit of shouting into the host school's student section after big plays.

"We did have a couple of mistakes, but I think that they could have won without me," Jefferson said of the Trojans in the first WSU game. "Hopefully our chances will be better if we execute on offense and defense, pull out the win over there on the road."

Floyd remains tempered in his praise of Jefferson. But he did highlight the two charges Jefferson took against Arizona State and said the freshman is rebounding better (6.1 per game).

"We hope that he'll go up there on this trip and play spirited, play hard, because we're a better team when he does," Floyd said.

Jefferson, who pleaded ignorance on Jan. 10, as to the motivation of his benching, said he has not changed significantly since that game.

"I think we're playing better basketball as a team, offense and defense," he said. "So I think that changes, not just for me, but for everybody."

Jonathan Kay can be reached at Jon@USCFootball.com


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