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January 19, 2008O.J. Mayo tossed the ball toward the Pauley Pavilion rafters, and Daniel Hackettleaped into his arms. Davon Jefferson charged over and wrapped himself around Dwight Lewis.
Yes, the USC Trojans are alive.
"We're here; we're not going anywhere," Mayo said of a team that has won two-straight games, after losing its first three in Pac-10 play. "We're young, but we understand. We're preaching all year that we're going to get better."
Mayo scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, and Jefferson scored eight of his game-high 25 in the final 1:07, sealing the Trojans' 72-63 upset victory at No. 4 UCLA.
After entering halftime down only one point - despite a dramatic disadvantage in rebounds and steals - USC steadied itself. The Bruins attempted 20 more shots from the field than the Trojans, but UCLA made only a third of its attempts in each half.
The Trojans sunk 60.9 percent of their shots.
"It's a statement game for the Pac-10," USC coach Tim Floyd said. "The eighth-place team, versus the No. (4) team in the country.
"We've said all along, as coaches, there are nine teams in this league that can win a minimum of two games in the NCAA tournament. I don't know how many are going to go. But this is a terrific, terrific league."
USC scored 44 of its points from inside the paint, including five slam dunks and numerous drives from Jefferson. The Trojans limited their low-percentage shots, making 4-of-9 3-pointers, while UCLA sunk only 8-of-26.
Jefferson dunked twice - for the first and last field goals of the game - and began jawing with the Bruins' student section after the final basket, on which he drew a foul from fellow freshman phenom Kevin Love.
"I like getting booed," Jefferson said. "That's why I was so into it with the fans. I know they want us to lose. So, I'm just bringing it. We all brought it."
UCLA turned an eight-point, second-half deficit into a six-point lead with 7:18 to go. But USC quickly tied the score with a driving reverse lay-up from Hackett and dunks from Taj Gibson and Mayo.
Along with Jefferson's late dominance, Gibson boosted the Trojans by blocking a Darren Collison shot, and Bruins forward Josh Shipp suddenly went cold, after draining NBA-range 3-pointers earlier in the game.
The victory marked the Trojans' first win against a top-four opponent, in four tries. USC lost close games to No. 4 Kansas and No. 2 Memphis before getting blown out by No. 4 Washington State last week.
"We want to be in big games, play against the best," Jefferson said. "We're all tough players, and we don't run from anybody."
In the much-anticipated matchup between 2007's top recruits, Love and Mayo, both played solid games, but neither starred. While Mayo broke through in the second half, Love finished with 18 points, on 6-of-15 shooting. He grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds - eight on the offensive end.
UCLA (16-2, 4-1) had 25 offensive rebounds, to USC's eight, but scored only 25 second-chance points. Despite their distinct size advantage, the Bruins scored only 22 points in the paint.
Shipp led UCLA with 21.
"We were way too emotional and got caught up in the hype," Bruins coach Ben Howland said.
Hackett, often the most emotional Trojan, managed to stay calm through 33 minutes, despite drawing his second foul early in the first half and then playing the final eight minutes with four fouls.
USC had a hard time moving the ball the two times he sat down. Hackett finished with a game-high eight assists, to go with six points and five rebounds.
"I had to play without my hands," Hackett said. "You've got to stay focused. The game is never over until they say, 'five fouls.'"
The Trojans improved to 11-6 (2-3 Pac-10). Next week, they travel for two games in Oregon, with a chance to put themselves back in the conference race.
"Young teams can sometimes get unrealistic after a big win," Floyd said. "That's our challenge now. Let's go back. Let's get ready to compete again."
NOTED: Mayo, a guard, and Love, a center, only faced off once during the game. With about 8:00 remaining, Mayo tried to draw a foul with a 3-point attempt through a double team. There was no call, and it simply went down as an ugly miss.
Make sure to check out reporter Jonathan Kay's live blog from every home USC basketball game on the TroyHoops.com basketball message board.
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