USC surprises Kentucky, 80-76

Bluthenthal scores 27 as No. 6 seed Trojans hold off Wildcats' rally

College Basketball

March 23, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- What's worse, watching Rick Pitino take over at archrival Louisville or seeing Kentucky lose to Southern California in the NCAA East Regional semifinals last night? That's what the Wildcats and their rabid fans were left to contemplate at the First Union Center.

On the strength of junior forward David Bluthenthal's shooting -- both on three-pointers and free throws -- the sixth-seeded Trojans continued their surprising run through the NCAA tournament with an 80-76 upset of second-seeded Kentucky.

The victory put USC (25-9) into tomorrow's regional final against top-seeded Duke, which beat fourth-seeded UCLA, 76-63. The win also marked the first time in USC history that the men's basketball team won three games in the same NCAA tournament.

Bluthenthal scored 27 points, including six of nine three-point shots. Bluthenthal also made five of six free throws in the final 31.3 seconds to help USC escape after nearly blowing a 21-point, second-half lead. In the end, the Trojans were too strong -- and athletic -- for the Wildcats.

Junior forward Sam Clancy finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots. Senior guard Jeff Trepagnier added 14 points, six rebounds and had four of his team's 11 steals. Senior center Brian Scalabrine finished with 13 points, six rebounds and four assists.

"The last three games I have been speechless," said USC coach Henry Bibby. "I like being speechless in these situations. The kids played great defense. We had a game plan, and the kids made shots. They had a couple of runs when we were up big, but we were able to stop them when we needed to."

Said Bluthenthal: "Going into the game, everyone gave something up. I gave up on getting down on myself when I missed a shot. I thought to myself, `Just keep shooting, you'll make the next one.'"

The Wildcats were not shocked by Bluthenthal's performance, which was two points short of his career high.

"He made some big shots," said Kentucky star Tayshaun Prince. "He is a big-time basketball player. Before the game, Coach told us that he was the best player they had, and he showed that tonight."

Bibby probably said the same thing about Prince, who came into the game as the leading scorer (58 points) remaining in the tournament. But the skinny 6-foot-9 forward who was physically overmatched inside, disappeared, and finished with just six points.

Former DeMatha star Keith Bogans led Kentucky (24-10) with 23 points, but missed a critical pair of free throws with 18.4 seconds left and Kentucky trailing 77-74. Freshman center Jason Parker kept the Wildcats in the game when they were on the verge of being blown out early, and finished with 22.

"We were in a similar situation when we played Arkansas in the SEC tournament," said Bogans, who scored all but two of his points in the second half. "We were down 15 points and we made a run and got back in the game. But I think today we were too far down. They are a great team and kept making big shots."

Kentucky buried itself with a large deficit early in the game -- at one point trailing 31-10 and by 19, 43-24, at halftime -- but it seemed for a while in the second half that the Wildcats would make one of their patented comebacks. They hit four straight threes and closed to 61-60.

After Bluthenthal's three-point shooting allowed the Trojans to build their lead back to nine, 73-64, things got interesting in the final minute. When Scalabrine missed an off-balance jumper with a little over a minute left, Bogans dunked at the other end to cut the deficit to three.

USC point guard Brandon Granville lost the ball and Kentucky reserve guard Clint Daniels drove to cut the deficit to one, 75-74, with 32 seconds to play. But Bluthenthal made a pair of free throws with 31.3 seconds left and Bogans, after being fouled going to the basket, missed badly on both shots.

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