March 10, 2007
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Gabe Pruitt figured he was in for a big night before the game began. He proved to be quite a prophet.
Pruitt scored 26 points, and Southern California used accurate long-range shooting and success at the foul line to beat No. 11 Washington State 70-61 Friday night in the semifinals of the Pac-10 tournament.
"During warmups, I was feeling it. I knew if I got open looks I would knock them down," the junior guard said.
"I hope you're feeling it tomorrow," USC coach Tim Floyd said.
Pruitt shot 6-of-7 from 3-point range, 7-of-9 overall, and 6-of-7 from the foul line.
The third-seeded Trojans will face fourth-seeded Oregon in Saturday's championship game at Staples Center. The 16th-ranked Ducks beat eighth-seeded California 81-63 earlier Friday night.
USC (23-10) and Oregon (25-7) both reached the finals for the first time since 2003, when the Ducks beat the Trojans 74-66 in the title game.
The Trojans swept the season series with the Ducks, winning 84-82 at Oregon and 71-68 at home.
Taj Gibson had 15 points and nine rebounds, Lodrick Stewart also scored 15, and Nick Young added 10 for the Trojans, who shot 10-of-16 from 3-point range and 18-of-38 overall (47.4 percent).
The Cougars made 11 3-pointers, but attempted 30, and shot 36.1 percent overall. USC went 24-of-33 from the foul line, while Washington State was 6-of-8.
The Cougars swept the Trojans during the regular season, but were extended in both games, winning 58-55 on the road and 88-86 in double overtime at home in the regular-season finale last weekend.
It was the Trojans' turn this time.
"I think post defense was the big key," Floyd said. "(Aron) Baynes had 25, he looked like Bill Walton in Pullman last weekend."
Baynes had seven points and nine rebounds in this game before fouling out.
Floyd also pointed to turnovers as a major factor - the Trojans committed only eight while forcing 11.
"These guys are terrific players - I've said it all year long," he said of the Trojans. "They're playing together on both ends of the floor."
Pruitt had 17 points and eight assists in USC's 83-79 overtime victory over Stanford in the tournament quarterfinals.
"I think Gabe has had his two best games of the season," Floyd said.
"We didn't have our 'A' game," Cougars coach Tony Bennett said. "We're vulnerable when we're not playing right.
"It's not the end of our season. The last three years we lost in the Pac-10 tournament, we were done."
The Cougars are a lock to be invited to their first NCAA tournament since 1994. They had 10 straight losing seasons before this year.
Low scored all of his points on 3-pointers, going 5-of-14 from beyond the arc. He also missed another pair of shots.
"They played really good defensively," he said. "I kept moving. I didn't get too many open looks and when I did, I was slightly off rhythm."
Pruitt scored eight straight USC points during a 13-5 run, putting the Trojans on top 56-46. Washington State scored six in a row to draw within four before two free throws by Stewart and a basket by Gibson made it 60-52 with 3:53 left.
The Cougars weren't closer than five points after that.
USC went ahead for good in the opening 7 minutes. Stewart, who had only six points against Stanford, scored eight straight to give the Trojans a 23-14 lead.
Pruitt made two 3-pointers and Young added another, making it 32-22 with 7:13 left before halftime. USC was 8-of-11 from 3-point range and 2-of-6 from inside the arc at that stage, and Pruitt had four 3-pointers and 15 points.
The Cougars outscored USC 9-2 to finish the first half, cutting the Trojans' lead to 38-34.