USC: Drew Gordon

Basketball: New Mexico 44, USC 41

December, 10, 2011
12/10/11
10:54
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- If only they could start how they finished, the USC Trojans might actually have a pretty good record at this point.

Instead, they're 4-6 now on the season and need to sweep their remaining three non-conference games to avoid beginning Pac-12 play with a losing record. Saturday's 44-41 loss to New Mexico was just the latest example of what's been an ugly trend for Kevin O'Neill's Trojans this season.

In all six of the losses, USC has trailed early -- and often trailed big. And the Trojans had chances to win late in all but one of them. Against the Lobos on Saturday, the Trojans fought back from a double-digit deficit to take a late lead, 41-40, with 1:51 to go in the game on a 3-point play from Dewayne Dedmon, but they quickly squandered it on the next possession.

USC ended up outscoring New Mexico by five in the second half after entering the break down by eight. A few more minutes and USC might have overtaken the Lobos for good. But the slow start -- the Trojans trailed 23-10 more than 18 minutes into the game -- ended up doing them in.

"I know that," Dedmon said after the game, when asked if the Trojans would be better off with more balanced first- and second-half play. "I know we would have a better record. We just gotta come out strong in the first half like we come out in the second half.

"We've gotta figure out a way to get everybody that second-half mentality in the first half."

After the first five minutes of the game, USC didn't lead Saturday's contest once until the final 111 seconds.

"It's been like that the entire year," O'Neill said. "We eased into the game and that got us into a hole."

Maurice Jones led the Trojans with 19 points. Dedmon added seven. UCLA transfer Drew Gordon had a team-high 13 points for New Mexico and Riverside King product Tony Snell added 10.

The teams combined to make just 30 field goals in the gam and produce 39 turnovers and just 15 assists.

"It was an ugly game," said New Mexico coach Steve Alford. "We came out and wanted to play up-tempo. But then they kind of slowed it down."

Alford added the Trojans "bored" his Lobos with their defensive strategies.

Player of the game: Jones kept the Trojans afloat all game. His 19 points were a game-high, although they did come on 7-of-18 shooting.

Alford spotlighted USC's 5-6 point guard in his postgame press conference, saying he was "quick" and could "get and go." But O'Neill said he envisions his No. 1 scorer shooting the ball even more if the Trojans are going to be successful this season.

"He can always be more aggressive," O'Neill said.

Stat of the game: New Mexico didn't make a field goal in the final 14 minutes and 16 seconds of the contest and still won.

It's rare for a team to go half that long without scoring and pull off a victory. To do it for more than an entire NBA quarter -- at the end of the game, no less -- and still win is simply remarkable.

Trend of the game: The Trojans held the Lobos to their lowest scoring total this season by nine points, proving once again that USC's issues aren't on the defensive side of the ball. The defense is top-notch, really, and, if USC can continue to hold teams under 50 points, some wins will come.

Maybe not a lot, but some.

"Our defense is way ahead of where we expected it to be," O'Neill said Saturday, reiterating what he said at practice this week. "I'm happy with a lot of what we're doing. We're just not able to get wins."

Quote of the game: "Of course we're behind offensively. The day (senior guard) Jio (Fontan) tore his knee in Brazil, we were behind offensively. -- O'Neill

If USC is ahead of schedule defensively yet behind it overall, it must mean the Trojans are severely behind schedule on the offensive end. O'Neill scoffed when asked that question after Saturday's game and then said, "Come on."

81 points in their last two games clearly shows that the Trojans are struggling.

Notes: Redshirt sophomore forward Evan Smith made his season debut in the first half for the Trojans, missing a 3-point attempt on his first possession. He hadn't played in game in two full seasons due to nagging shoulder injuries that required surgery...The 15 points scored by the Trojans in the first half were the fewest in a period in O'Neill's three seasons. The team's previous low was 16, done twice this season in losses to Cal Poly and Minnesota...Announced attendance at the Galen Center for the Trojans' first home game in two weeks was 3,863.

Basketball: Not a rebuilding year, yet

December, 10, 2011
12/10/11
7:56
AM PT
New Mexico is the break, really.

Kevin O'Neill's USC Trojans (4-5) have a two-week break between stretches of four games in eight days and three games in five days. The only thing breaking up the break is Saturday's 4 p.m. matchup against the visiting New Mexico Lobos at the Galen Center.

Finals, lasting until Wednesday the 14th, are the reason for the time off. But the Trojans are trying to use it to their advantage. They'll get one last week of preparation before Pac-12 play begins later this month, but this is the last chance until then they'll get to reset their season and start anew.

"It is an important time," O'Neill says, simply, mentioning the road-heavy schedule USC embarked on in the early part of the year and the tough opponents the Trojans will play later this month in TCU and No. 13 Kansas. During this time, he wants to focus on his team getting better in one area: defense.

That's not to say defense is USC's weakness. It's actually arguably the team's biggest strength. Rather, O'Neill wants the Trojans to focus on defense because he realizes that the team's other areas of struggle -- free-throw shooting and 3-point shooting, namely -- are not things that are going to be shored up suddenly.

It's like this: Either you spend your time working on something you know can get better with time, or you take a gamble and try to get lucky with the other stuff. O'Neill's picking the former, not the latter, even though his team's shooting a miserable 59 percent from the free-throw line and 29 percent from 3.

"It is what it is," he says. "We're pretty good defensively, for this point in the season. I like a lot of the things our guys have done."

Other things he likes include a low amount of turnovers and better rebounding. The Trojans' assist numbers are low, but their 13-turnover average isn't terrible. And Aaron Fuller's team-leading rebounding numbers have been important, although he's been bothered by some nagging injuries this year.

Another player nagged by injuries: forward Dewayne Dedmon, who was supposed to be out right now with a stress injury in his foot. Instead, he returned quickly and plans to play against New Mexico.

All of this, of course, could lead to speculation that the rest of this season is a sort of try-out for next season -- a rebuilding season, if you will. But O'Neill squashed any talk of that.

"I'm not thinking that at all," he said Thursday after the Trojans' two-hour practice. "I'm thinking we're gonna be a postseason team.

"We're planning on trying to play after the season's done."

Key players for Steve Alford's New Mexico team include guards Tony Snell and Kendall Williams, both Southern California natives, and forward Drew Gordon, he who once went to UCLA. The fourth scorer is a 6-2 guard named Demetrius Walker who was long the country's No. 1 player as a teenager.

The Lobos have reeled off four straight wins over the likes of Washington State and Boston College.

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C. Kessler361236296820
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