It was a first date of sorts, a date with the NCAA Tournament. Stewart, Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt had been pining for this opportunity for years. Their backs were arched and heads tilted to catch a better view of the scoreboard screen from the arena’s plush new seats. They ached to find out who would be their dance partner, and where they would be going. But the selection show teased them for more than 30 minutes, going through the entire West region before USC’s pairing was announced. The Trojans received the No.5 seed in the East Region and will face 12th-seeded Arkansas on Friday in Spokane, Wash. The players, some of whom brought along family members, erupted in cheers. Then they got the unique perspective of watching that delayed reaction on the CBS telecast seconds later. “It was unbelievable,” Young said. “I’ve never been in a situation like that, where we see ourselves on the screen and everybody was yelling, then seeing the No. 5 pop up. That was great.” It will be USC’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament since the 2001-02 season, before any current player was on the team. “We’ll get them back to Earth tomorrow, and they can take pats on the back today,” Tim Floyd said. LOS ANGELES – USC players sat in the Galen Center stands, two television cameras ready to capture their reactions, and waited. And waited. “My palms were sweaty,” said senior guard Lodrick Stewart. Floyd took over a team coming off a last-place finish in the Pacific-10 Conference and has it in the NCAA Tournament twoyears later. Entering the season , the Trojans were picked by the media to finish sixth in the conference. “It’s absolutely ahead of schedule,” USC athletic director Mike Garrett said. “If you told me, with the team we had coming back and losing Ryan Francis, that we would make the NCAA Tournament, I would have said that was a `Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”‘ Francis, the starting point guard last season, was killed in a shooting in Louisiana during the offseason. The fifth seed is higher than expected. The Trojans had an impressive resume, with seven victories over Top-25 teams, but had bad losses to South Carolina and Arizona State, as well as a No. 40 RPI. USC’s RPI improved last week thanks to its run to the Pac-10 tournament final, but the Trojans (23-11) had an embarrassing blowout loss to Oregon in the title game. “We’re certainly happy with our seed,” Floyd said. “We think we were treated fairly.” USC won its last meeting with Arkansas, in 1986. The Trojans also beat the Razorbacks in 1967, their only other meeting. Arkansas (21-13) tied for eighth in the Southeastern Conference but advanced to the final of the conference tournament before losing to Florida. If USC can get by the Razorbacks, it could set up a second-round game against No. 15 Texas and national player of the year candidate Kevin Durant. “Obviously, he’s a top NBA prospect,” Pruitt said of Durant. “Hopefully we can take care of business against Arkansas and see those guys in the second round.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!