Southern California 87, Texas 68

Sunday, March 18th 2007, 7:05 pm
By: News On 6

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) _ If Kevin Durant decides to leave college after one year, it will be without a championship _ or even a trip into the second week of the tournament.

Southern California made sure of that Sunday, getting 22 points from its more seasoned star, junior Nick Young, in an 87-68 runaway over Texas and Durant, the freshman front-runner for national player of the year.

As he often has this season, Durant led everyone with 30 points and added nine rebounds for fourth-seeded Texas.

But he never came close to dominating this East Regional game. Many times when he got the ball, the offense ground to a halt for the Longhorns (25-10), who fell behind by 17 early in the second half and never made a serious run.

No. 5 seed USC (25-11) also got 20 points from Daniel Hackett and 17 points and 14 rebounds from Taj Gibson _ a 6-foot-9 freshman like Durant. The Trojans won by playing smarter, more disciplined basketball and looking much more like a team in doing it.

A team with a very good leader in Young _ the scrappy swingman who had every reason to believe he'd be a USC alum by the time second-year coach Tim Floyd's rebuilding efforts took shape.

Turns out, the talent's there now, and next week, the Trojans will make their first trip to the regional semis since 2001 _ and second since 1979 _ where they'll play North Carolina.

With their 25th win, they set a program record. Not bad for this so-called football school, which got a small _ very small _ measure of revenge for its heartbreaking loss to the Longhorns in the 2006 Rose Bowl with the national title on the line.

This is a long, athletic, relentless team, one that relegated Durant _ brilliant as he was at times _ to the perimeter and dominated the middle against the rest of the Longhorns.

Though Gibson and Durant weren't head-to-head for much of this, the USC freshman was more effective. After taking a nasty blow to the face that benched him at the end of the first half, Gibson iced this game in the second. He dominated the boards and made 9 of 14 free throws, almost all down the stretch.

The most telling sequence came earlier in the second half, after Texas had trimmed a 15-point deficit to four.

Lodrick Stewart worked for and made an open 17-footer. Young came back with a 3-pointer, then swatted D.J. Augustin's shot out of bounds on Texas' next possession. A few moments later, Young got an easy offensive rebound and a putback. He made two free throws, then forced a steal, filled the lane and took a pass from Gabe Pruitt for a slam.

By then, it was 48-33 and Texas was moving into desperation mode.

Durant had nothing to be ashamed of. He added this to a 27-point, eight-rebound opener against New Mexico State in which he never quite looked in sync.

But he couldn't do it all for the 'Horns, and it is now decision time for the 26-point, 11-rebound-a-game star who will probably win several player-of-the-year awards over the next few weeks.

If he chooses the NBA and fellow freshman Greg Oden of Ohio State doesn't, Durant will likely be the top pick _ his perimeter skills giving him a chance to succeed right away while he fills out that skinny, 225-pound frame.

But this won't follow the Carmelo Anthony story of 2003 _ when 'Melo led Syracuse to a championship as a freshman and decided to move on, having done all he could at this level.

Instead, maybe the storyline to follow will be that of USC, which played the season in memory of teammate Ryan Francis, the point guard who was gunned down in a drive-by shooting last year in his home state of Louisiana.

Francis' mother, Paulette, was in Spokane this weekend, and whether it was her presence or something else, the Trojans played both of their games like a team with a purpose. That they were rarely challenged by Arkansas in a 77-60 first-round win wasn't a surprise, but this blowout over Texas certainly was.

With 20 points, A.J. Abrams was the only player to join Durant in double figures for the Longhorns, who shot only 37 percent from the floor.