USC flips the script on Durant, Texas

USC knew it couldn't stop Texas freshman Kevin Durant -- it could only hope to contain him, writes Mark Schlabach.

Updated: March 19, 2007, 11:58 AM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Southern California coach Tim Floyd knew his team couldn't stop Texas freshman Kevin Durant, so the Trojans focused on stopping the players who get him the basketball.

Gabe Pruitt
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesGabe Pruitt stole the spotlight from Texas freshman Kevin Durant.
With Trojans junior Gabe Pruitt harassing freshman point guard D.J. Augustin, and post players Taj Gibson, Nick Young and Keith Wilkinson cutting off lanes to prevent the point guard from penetrating, USC turned the Longhorns into the team many believed they were coming into the NCAA Tournament -- a one-man show.

Close enough, anyway. In the case of No. 5 seed USC's 87-68 victory over No. 4 seed Texas in a second-round game of the East Regional, the Longhorns were a two-man show, at best.

With the Trojans constantly switching on ball screens and double-teaming Durant as much as possible, he scored 30 points on 11-for-24 shooting with nine rebounds and two blocked shots. But it was hardly Durant's best effort in what might very well have been his last college game.

"I have a sour taste in my mouth from ending the season like this," Durant said. "I kind of regret not playing as hard as I could today."

The Trojans used a novel idea in defending the player many believe is the most talented in college basketball: They guarded him with smaller players. With freshman Daniel Hackett hounding him, Durant was slow out of the gates. When Durant scored his third basket of the game -- a 3-pointer with 5:34 left in the first half -- the Trojans already had a 32-20 lead.

"I thought the first 10 minutes were critical," Floyd said. "And that's where we did our best job on him -- those 10 minutes. We were able to get a little confidence. We still have a new group that's trying to figure out if they really belong here or not. I think that getting started with him and getting it in their minds that he was defendable gave them a little confidence in what they were doing defensively."

Floyd said USC assistant Phil Johnson hatched the game plan for defending Durant. After watching more than 12 hours of film from Texas' earlier games this season, Johnson decided the Trojans would benefit from having four guards on the court. Johnson believed Hackett, who is at least four inches shorter than Durant, was the team's toughest defender and could handle the job of slowing him down.

Kevin Durant
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesKevin Durant's game is NBA ready, but he may not be ready for the NBA lifestyle.
"They went small," Johnson said. "When you look at their team, they're really playing four guards because you have to consider Durant a guard. It was really everybody. It was the guys behind them as much as the guys sticking Durant."

Especially Pruitt, who forced Augustin into one of his worst shooting performances of the season. Augustin, from New Orleans, scored only six points on 1-for-8 shooting and had six turnovers and five assists. He missed each of his four 3-point attempts before fouling out.

"We had told D.J. that he was going to have to shoot the ball," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "We thought they would switch ball screens when they went with their small lineup. We knew that was going to happen. We knew they would take away his penetration, and we told him he was going to have to shoot the ball. He was reluctant to do that early. And when that started happening, he over-penetrated and turned the ball over some."

In Texas' 79-67 win over No. 13 seed New Mexico State on Friday night, Augustin scored 19 points with seven assists. But he never got untracked against the Trojans.

"I thought Gabe Pruitt did a terrific job out front on Augustin," Floyd said. "We felt like he was the guy that dominated the ball and they really relied on his penetration. [Pruitt] had help from Nick Young and help from Taj Gibson all night long. The key thing you have to do is stay between him and the basket, and that's what Pruitt did."

Pruitt also kept Augustin off the foul line. Augustin was 6-for-6 on free throws against New Mexico State, when the Longhorns shot 25-for-26 from the foul line. They were only 13-for-16 against USC.

"Pruitt used his length to keep him off the foul line," Floyd said. "D.J.'s special at getting into the lane and throwing his body into you and drawing the foul and getting the one-and-ones. Gabe understood that, and I think he played him with the proper space. I think doubling the screen and rolls really helped us because it put him going north versus south. It allowed us to build in some help behind him.

"We felt like [foul shots] were their fourth scorer, and I thought our guys were really aware of playing without their hands and playing with their feet today. I thought that that was as important as anything that happened."

Floyd said having four Trojans guards on the court also prevented the Longhorns from scoring baskets in transition. After cutting USC's lead to 34-27 at the half on A.J. Abrams' 3-pointer with four seconds to go in the first half, the Longhorns got as close as a four-point deficit in the early minutes of the second half. But then USC went on a 19-3 run over the next 5½ minutes to take a 20-point lead with 14 minutes to go.

"We felt like we had opportunities to double with the smaller lineup and get there quicker," Floyd said. "We felt like they were an offensive transition team. Their biggest focus is getting it from off the defensive board and getting it down and laying it up. [The small lineup] enabled us to get three guards back on defense instead of two. For the majority of the game, they were having to walk the ball up the floor, and I think that was a result of the small lineup. Had we not gone small, there probably would have been more transition baskets."

Abrams, a sophomore from Round Rock, Texas, scored 20 points on 7-for-14 shooting and made four 3-pointers. He and Durant combined for 50 of the Longhorns' 68 points; Texas lost four of its last five games in which the duo combined for 50 points or more. The seven other Longhorns who played against USC combined to shoot 6-for-26. Guard Craig Winder was the only reserve to score, getting four points.

"You are not going to get it done this time of year with just two guys that are being aggressive for you," Barnes said.

Not even when one of them is Durant.

"There's basically nothing you can really do against Durant," Young said. "We just focused on the two guys, D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams, and we just tried our best to contain them. There's nothing you can really do about a 6-9 guard who can put it on the floor and shoot the 3 at the same time."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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