LOS ANGELES-The USC men's basketball team may be unfamiliar at the top the Pacific 10 Conference, but for the time being, the underdog is enjoying the view from above.
The Trojans haven't stood alone in first place since 1985, when they last won the Pac-10 title, and haven't started 5-0 in the conference since Arizona and Arizona State joined the Pac-10 in 1978-79.
Prior to Saturday night's 80-72 win over the second-ranked Wildcats, critics were writing off USC, saying its season had ended after losing Sam Clancy, the team's leading scorer. Clancy is expected to miss 6-8 weeks after breaking his foot Thursday in the overtime win over ASU.
USC also lost forward Jarvis Turner against ASU to a broken ankle. Turner will also be out 6-8 weeks.
"For all the people that wrote us off, thank you," USC head coach Henry Bibby said. "You inspired us today."
Not only did USC shoot 50 percent from the field against Arizona, it frustrated UA sophomore forward Michael Wright down low. Wright scored a team-high 22 points against UCLA, but was held to three points - all free throws - against the Trojans.
"Pretty much the game-plan was to stay on his body, and not let him roam inside," USC forward David Bluthenthal said. "He's a good player, and the coaches told me not to leave him and let him get on the offensive boards."
Bluthenthal shot 9-for-12 from the field and scored 26 points, despite playing a lot of the game in foul trouble with four fouls.
Trojan forward Brian Scalabrine was red hot, shooting 10-for-16 from the field and 3-for-5 from three-point range, finishing with 27 points. The versatile Scalabrine was able to draw UA junior center Loren Woods out on the perimeter and back Woods down low, as well.
"It was a very important game for us, a very emotional game for us," Scalabrine said. "We were warriors today, and I'm glad we're in first place.
"We really worked on defense, there's no secret to playing guys straight up. It wasn't an easy task."
They may not have been expected to take an early lead in the Pac-10 race, or even be in the upper half of the conference, but USC has won seven straight games and nine of its last 10 games - impressive by anybody's standards.
"The chemistry is good in the basketball team now," Bibby said. "They now have a taste of success in their mouths."