Saturday, February 12, 2011
Basketball: Oregon 61, USC 51
By Pedro Moura
LOS ANGELES -- This time, there was no arena unveiling, half-hour ceremony before tipoff or confusing half-court line throwing things into question in Saturday's USC-Oregon game at the Galen Center.
But the outcome was still the same. USC (13-11, 5-7 in the Pac-10) was in its own friendly confines, not the brand-new Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, where Oregon surprised the Trojans in a 68-62 win last month, but USC fell similarly to the visiting Ducks on Saturday in a 61-51 loss that has to rank among the most disappointing of the season.
Oregon (13-12, 6-7) stayed steadily ahead of USC throughout the game, opening up to a 7-4 lead and never relinquishing it. The Ducks' gameplan was clear: double- and triple-team USC forward Nikola Vucevic and force him to pass out to the Trojans' outside shooters, and let their athleticism overpower USC by game's end.
"They knew what they wanted to do, and they did do it," USC coach Kevin O'Neill said.
Malcolm Armstead had 14 points and five assists for the Ducks, who also got at least five points from seven different players. On the other end, Oregon's zone defense and full-court press was confounding as usual.
"We played well in a lot of ways tonight," Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "We really controlled pretty much all of the game."
Player of the game: Vucevic was really USC's only effective offensive option, but even he was not at his best. He did finish with good numbers, though -- 22 points and 16 rebounds -- and his energy was commendable from start to finish with very few lapses.
"Vucevic was just great for them as always," Altman said. "He's really as skilled and, frankly, as good as I've ever seen for someone his size."
At times, Vucevic seemed bothered by a lack of calls -- and by Oregon pest/forward E.J. Singler, who was clearly getting under his skin. Give Vucevic credit for sticking with it and posting a solid personal effort, as he showed some perseverance that had sometimes been lacking earlier on in his career, like last month's game in Eugene.
In the same breath, though, he also showed what he still needs to work on: getting his teammates involved. At his best, Vucevic is a better-than-average passer out of double teams, but he sometime appeared frazzled when the Ducks doubled him down low and didn't always make the right pass. He struggled a bit, too, with a few lay-ins.
"I missed some easy shots I usually make," Vucevic said.
Stat of the game: O'Neill mentioned multiple times in the past week that the 15 points the Trojans scored in the second half of their loss to UCLA in Westwood a couple of weeks back would never cut it at the college level.
It turns out 19 points in the first half doesn't cut it either. That's how many the Trojans had Saturday against the Ducks, and that super-slow start really handicapped their efforts to put together a comeback in the second half.
USC's offensive numbers in the second half -- 32 points on 50 percent shooting -- weren't even that bad. It was the first 20 minutes -- eight made shots, 26 percent shooting, as many turnovers as assists -- that cost them on this night.
Quote of the game: "We're all disappointed, but we're not gonna be discouraged. It's tough to take, We've still got six games left and the conference tournament, so we've still got a lot of basketball to play. -- O'Neill
It's a nice sentiment from O'Neill, but the Trojans sure seemed discouraged in the final few minutes of the game. USC made only one player available to the media after the game -- Vucevic -- and he did admit that the team was feeling "down" and "frustrated."
Things look bleak at this point, with six games left and the Trojans flirting with .500.
Notes: There were only two fast-break baskets the entire game. USC made both of them. ... Maurice Jones and Jio Fontan each had six assists, equating to a season-high 12 for the duo. Jones' six also tied a personal season-high, Fontan's came just short of his season-high of seven. ... Five minutes into the first half, Altman curiously chose to substitute out his entire starting lineup and bring in five players off the bench. He followed a more normal substitution pattern from then on. Said O'Neill of his immediate thought when he saw five Ducks approach the scorer's table: "Oh, boy. Here they come."
Vucevic talked to the media after the game about his personal performance, what's left for the Trojans to do -- or attempt to do, at least -- this season and a few other topics. See what he had to say: