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Thursday, December 22, 2011
Basketball: Kansas 63, USC 47

By Pedro Moura

Tyshawn Taylor
Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor makes a pass over USC forward Aaron Fuller, left, during Thursday's game.

LOS ANGELES -- USC's defense is legitimately great.

The Trojans consistently hold teams far below their per-game point averages and force them to alter their offensive gameplans.

It's unfortunate, then, that they're also incredibly inept on the offensive side of the ball. If the Trojans were even average at putting the ball in the basket, they'd probably be staring at a top-two finish in the Pac-12 conference and an NCAA tournament bid.

But they're not, and so Kevin O'Neill's ragtag squad of undersized athletes, junior-college discoveries and major-college transfers will continue to lose games like Thursday's to Kansas, 63-47.

"We're always going to defend well enough to have a chance to win," O'Neill said after Thursday's game. "It's whether we can make enough plays or not.

"Tonight, unfortunately, we just didn't do that."

As O'Neill indicated, it wasn't that the Jayhawks overpowered USC. Kansas came up more than 12 points short of its season average and shot just over 40 percent from the field. None of Bill Self's players scored more than 14 points.

It was just that the Trojans (5-8) couldn't score -- at all. They scored 13 points total in the first half, with four each from Aaron Fuller and Alexis Moore. Fuller finished with 19 points to lead all scorers, but Maurice Jones' seven were second, and they came on 13 shot attempts.

And, with that, even the USC defense faded some late. After holding Kansas (8-3) to 25 points in the first half, the Jayhawks responded with 38 in the second, shooting 50 percent from the field after converting just 33 percent in the first 20 minutes.

Guard Elijah Johnson led the Jayhawks with 14. Conner Teahan added 13 for Kansas, who was playing its first true road game of the season and coming off an upset loss to Davidson earlier in the week.

"The game was a grinder, and we knew it was going to be like that," Self said afterward. "They wore us out in the game."

Said O'Neill: "It's hard to keep playing good defense when you just cannot seem to get anything going,"

Player of the game: Fuller had himself a very efficient night, leading all scorers with the 19 points on just 10 shots. He also grabbed five rebounds -- all in just 25 minutes as he was hurt by foul trouble early on.

The 6-foot-6 junior has consistently been USC's second-most reliable scorer this season, behind only Jones. But with Jones shooting just 2-of-12 from the floor, Fuller was the Trojans' only option. Fellow forward Dewayne Dedmon was a non-factor with two points in 20 minutes, and freshmen Byron Wesley and Moore combined to shoot 3-for-13.

He was also matched up for much of the night against Kansas' Thomas Robinson, a top prospect who has been hyped for the Naismith Player of the year award. None of that was lost on O'Neill.

"He gives us a guy that we can go to in the paint, a guy that we can run some offense through," O'Neill said of Fuller.

Fuller said his 19-point performance -- which tied his season-high -- gave him a big boost of confidence heading into next week's Pac-12-opening slate of games against Stanford and Cal.

Stat of the game: In the first half, the Trojans had 13 points and 13 turnovers.

The first number was the lowest single-half total under O'Neill, breaking the previous mark of 15 set against New Mexico earlier this month. The second number was one more than USC averaged per game entering Thursday.

"When you turn the ball over like that, you're gonna look bad," O'Neill said. "I think the turnovers killed us more than anything."

"You're not gonna win many games if you turn it over 13 times."

Quote of the game:  "Well, that was the second best time I've ever had."

O'Neill said those words as he walked into the Galen Center news conference room following the Trojans' 16-point loss. He later said he was "obviously joking," but wouldn't agree to it being one of his worst games as a head coach ever either.

He mentioned 98-50 and 55-22 losses in his past as games that came to mind that ended worse.

Final notes: Taylor went to the same high school as injured USC guard Jio Fontan, St. Anthony High in Jersey City, N.J. The two, who consider each other best friends, were primary subjects of a PBS documentary titled 'The Street Stops Here,' which followed Fontan's senior season...Among the 6,431 in attendance at the Galen Center were Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, television stars Jimmy Kimmel and Johnny Knoxville and boxer Victor Ortiz...During a break in the action in the first half, the video board at the arena showed highlights from USC quarterback Matt Barkley's Thursday announcement that he'd be returning to USC in 2012.