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Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Basketball: Tuesday practice report

By Pedro Moura

USC (15-12, 7-7 in the Pac-10) plays Arizona at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Galen Center. We'll have a preview of the game Thursday, but here are a few worthwhile nuggets from the Trojans' Tuesday practice in preparation for the Wildcats:

Counterintuitive

When you move one player into the starting lineup and one player to the bench, you expect the new starter to have a big game and the new reserve to take a step back, right?

Not so for these Trojans. Coach Kevin O'Neill inserted senior guard Donte Smith into the starting lineup for last Thursday's game against Cal in the place of freshman Maurice Jones, and then witnessed Jones blow up for a huge 22-point second half against the Bears and Smith score only four points.

Hey, whatever works, right?

"I think it just sparked Mo," forward Alex Stepheson said of the switch's different-than-expected effects. "I think KO started Donte thinking he was gonna knock down some shots and give us a lift early, and Mo came out and it just sparked him. He came off the bench and just hit big shots and pretty much carried us to that win."

Stepheson said Jones' performance -- and the team's as a whole -- was helped by Cal's focus on Smith. He said the Bears were keying on the shooter from the opening tip and sometimes even doubling him at the 3-point line, a "very rare" tactic, he said.

Again, whatever it was, it worked.

"He was playing relaxed," Smith said of his freshman teammate. "He was just playing basketball, that's all it was."

O'Neill seemed to agree with the less-pressure sentiment.

"Sometimes, guys, if you just easy the pressure off them a little bit, maybe it works out a little better for them," the second-year coach said after Tuesday's practice. "And Mo had kinda hit a wall a little bit, for whatever reason.

"Usually, if you have 10 or 11 guys, you bench guys for bad performances. Mo didn't get benched for bad performance -- it's not like I was saying we lost against Oregon because of Mo or anything like that -- I just had to make some sort of move, and there aren't a lot of moves out there to make."

Feeling guilty

If you needed one word to describe how this team feels about its performance last month in Tucson, it'd be 'guilty.'

Guilty. It seems these Trojans feel more than a bit guilty that they didn't come out with every ounce of available energy when they had the opportunity to. USC ended up losing that game by a respectable number -- 82-73 was the final -- but that score belies the course of the game, as the Wildcats led by 19 with five minutes to go, when USC proceeded to put together a meaningless mini-run.

Heck, Arizona star Derrick Williams didn't miss a shot in that game, despite having his right hand heavily taped and being clearly limited on the floor. Point guard Lamont Jones didn't miss either, and the Wildcats shot 61 percent as a team.

So far this season, that's been the only game in conference play where USC looked like it didn't have a chance. And the Trojans are trying to change that image with a better performance Thursday. So, yes, they know their defense wasn't up to par in Tucson.

"We played poorly defensively, and they were just hot," Stepheson said Tuesday. "I mean, Derrick was shooting fadeaway 3-pointers and stuff. It was a combination of bad defense and them being extremely hot that game."

Added Smith, who said Arizona pretty much didn't even feel the Trojans on the defensive end: "They're a good team -- don't get me wrong. They're a great team. But they're gonna feel us Thursday."

O'Neill speaks

See what O'Neill had to say about the fast-paced practice the Trojans put together on Tuesday, including his answers to questions on the differences between USC's play two weekends ago and last weekend and his plans to rest his team more in the coming weeks: