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USC Basketball: Trojans top St. Mary's, 60-49, advance to finals of tourney (updated)

December 23, 2009 |  4:53 pm

St. Mary's had a high-powered offense, one of the nation's best.

USC had an equally powerful defense, also one of the best in the land.

Advantage: Trojans.

USC-logo Behind a stifling defensive effort and the return of one of their most physical players, the Trojans topped the Gaels, 60-49, on Wednesday in the second round of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. USC will play in the finals Friday against either Nevada Las Vegas or Hawaii. 

(Note: An earlier version of this story had the wrong final score.)

[Update 6:12 p.m.: This post has been updated with quotes from Mike Gerrity, Leonard Washington and USC Coach Kevin O'Neill.]

USC (7-4) held St. Mary's (10-2) to its lowest scoring output this season, and well below its season average (84.1) coming into the game.

The Trojans, who have won five straight, were again led by point guard Mike Gerrity, who scored 17 points for the second straight game. Gerrity made seven of 10 shots and had four rebounds and a steal against St. Mary's.

"I feel like I'm getting more and more comfortable with the guys and getting the team into our sets," Gerrity said by phone from Hawaii.

But it was the return of forward Leonard Washington that helped give the Trojans a decisive edge. Washington had missed every game this season because he academically ineligible, but he was cleared to play Wednesday when grades were posted. He scored 10 points as a reserve, making four of eight shots. He also had six rebounds and two blocks.

"He made a huge difference in the game," said USC Coach Kevin O'Neill by phone. "He was great. He played within himself."

Said Washington by phone: "I just tried to come in and give the team whatever I could."

Forward Nikola Vucevic scored 15 points on five-for-seven shooting. 

St. Mary's was led by guard Mickey McConnell, who had 17 points.

McConnell's layup with 4:50 left capped an 8-0 run by St. Mary's, cutting USC's lead to 47-43.
But USC called a timeout and responded with a 7-2 run and the game was back-and-forth from there until the buzzer sounded. USC's lead stayed at about 10 points after USC used a 12-2 run to go up 20-10 with 7:47 in the first half.

It was the Trojans' second win over a one-loss team this season. The other came against eight-win Tennessee on Saturday.

-- Baxter Holmes