USC: Herb Sendek

Basketball: USC 62, Arizona State 46

February, 26, 2011
2/26/11
9:00
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- It's a phrase that hasn't been used much around the USC basketball program this season.

But, for once on Saturday, it actually applied to the situation: That was easy.

The Trojans (17-12, 9-7 in the Pac-10) easily handled conference bottom-dweller Arizona State in a Saturday mid-afternoon tilt at the Galen Center, topping the Sun Devils, 62-46, on Senior Day behind 20 points and 10 rebounds from star forward Nikola Vucevic, 15 from senior Alex Stepheson and increasingly stout defense.

It has become a pattern in recent games. 20-plus points from Vucevic, double-digit scoring from another player or two, this time Stepheson and Donte Smith, and tight on-the-ball defense spearheaded by stopper Marcus Simmons -- just like coach Kevin O'Neill is drawing it up. And O'Neill has been very pleased.

"We got the job done," the second-year coach said after Saturday's game. "I just liked the way we played, tone-wise, for most of the game."

ASU opened the game up to a 5-0 lead, but the outcome was never again in doubt after that. By the mid-point of the first half, USC had taken a six-point lead. By halftime, the Trojans led by 20, 38-18. And in the second half they stretched the lead out to as many as 26 points before letting up some late to account for the 16-point margin. The Sun Devils were overmatched.

"It's the eyeball test," Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. "When you look at them you see they have a team full of men. It's all really well put together and when they add in O'Neill to the mix with his coaching it becomes dangerous for other teams."

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USC-Arizona: The (former) recruits

January, 29, 2011
1/29/11
7:42
AM PT
Five questions -- well, four, plus a prediction -- that will go a long way toward deciding today's 4:30 p.m. game against Arizona:

1. How much will Derrick Williams haunt the Trojans?

It's not just Williams. The Wildcats' three leading scorers -- Williams, Solomon Hill and Lamont 'Momo' Jones -- were all USC recruits at one point under former coach Tim Floyd, and all three ended up signing with Arizona and coach Sean Miller.

It was a big story last season when the trio were booed by the Galen Center crowd; it'll be a bigger story this time around because Williams has become so good.

Averaging just 29 minutes per game, Williams is putting up 19.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game to go along with some gaudy peripheral statistics. At 6-foot-8 and 241 pounds, he's a perfect four at the college level, but he's also shooting 67 percent (21 of 31) from 3-point range this season, 75 percent from the free-throw line and a remarkable 63 percent from the field.

He's scored at least 12 points in every game this season. Hill and Jones combine to average almost 17 points per game, but the Wildcats have a full 10-man rotation so each player gets a few less minutes than you'd expect.

2. Where will USC's offense come from?

Only three of the Trojans' sevem rotation players had good nights against ASU -- Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Jones and Donte Smith. The other players -- including Jio Fontan and Marcus Simmons, who combined for a whopping no points -- struggled. USC still hasn't had a game this season where Vucevic and Fontan have both played well. Smith has often had to be the offensive savior in games this season with his 3-point shooting, but more offensive options will be needed Saturday.

Unless Vucevic and Fontan both have good nights and Jones continues his aggressive efforts from Thursday's game, expect a USC loss.

3. How much zone will the Trojans see?

Arizona State showed USC a lot of zone on Thursday. But the Sun Devils are usually a zone-defense team under Herb Sendek. It also didn't work all that well against the Trojans.

But it'll be interesting to pay attention to Arizona's defensive looks tonight, especially when USC puts together a mini-run and Miller calls a timeout to reset things.

"I wouldn’t be surprised if the next couple teams we play, even man-to-man teams like Arizona and UCLA, they tuck their pride and go zone as well," Fontan said after practice this week. "I would, if I was a coach, seeing what we’ve done so far. We gotta be ready for that."

Indeed. Expect spurts of it from the Wildcats.

4. Can the Trojans play a full 40 minutes?

It'll take a full 40 minutes to beat a team the caliber of Arizona. USC took a few plays off against a lesser opponent in ASU Thursday but won't be able to tonight. And that will be a test for the Trojans, who have consistently been hurt this season by their inability to play an entire, fundamentally sound game. Kevin O'Neill knows it, and his players know it.

"Watching college basketball, a lot of the teams now do a better job than we do of playing complete games," Fontan said. "I feel like we haven’t really played a complete game."

The closest the Trojans have come to that, he said, was the second half of the Kansas game. But they lost that game after starting off badly in the first half. He also mentioned the Texas game, probably USC's most impressive home win this season.

Said Fontan: "Right now, we’re not playing up to that level because we’re expecting to hit the next stage and it hasn’t come yet, but we have to maintain focus like we did in those two games, playing defense and locking down."

5. Who will win?

Arizona, by about 10 points. Williams was too much for UCLA to handle on Thursday, and he'll be too much for USC to handle on Saturday.

USC stretches winning streak to 8, tops ASU

January, 3, 2010
1/03/10
10:00
AM PT
USC forward Marcus Johnson said he had never seen this small of a score in a game.

Well, he has now.

In the lowest of low-scoring battles held Saturday night at the Galen Center, the USC Trojans managed to top the Arizona State Sun Devils, 47-37, and extend their winning streak to eight games.

The Sun Devils' 37 points tied a program low; only two players scored more than four points. USC (10-5, 2-0) had two players — Marcus Johnson and Mike Gerrity — in double figures, but only two points off the bench.

Said USC coach Kevin O'Neill: "Obviously, that was not two scoring juggernauts of teams."

While the Trojan defense was the story, Arizona State (10-5, 0-2) also managed to post a respectable performance on that end, holding USC to 36 percent shooting and just five assists. The Trojans also committed 14 turnovers.

"They’re a pain to play," O'Neill said. "They’re very, very good."

Key player: Gerrity rebounded from an awful performance against Arizona to post 12 points and three assists in 37 minutes of play against the Sun Devils. He knocked down 7-of-8 free throws to help seal the game late and teamed with Marcus Simmons to shut down ASU point guard Derek Glasser on the defensive end.

O'Neill praised his point guard for bouncing back, saying the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder was bound to have off-nights considering the minutes he has been asked to play on a nightly basis.

“I’m playing him too many minutes," O'Neill said. "Let’s face it."

In return, Gerrity called O'Neill "the most demanding" defensive coach he's had in his career, but credited him for his defensive revival this year. In stints with Pepperdine and Charlotte, Gerrity had garnered a reputation as a mediocre defender. He held his own against Glasser and Arizona's Nic Wise this weekend.

Key plays: USC was down 12-10 with seven minutes to play when forward Alex Stepheson — who steered clear of foul trouble tonight — powered past ASU's Eric Boateng twice, hitting two shots to give the Trojans the 14-12 lead they would never relinquish.

In the second half, ASU closed the gap to 32-27 at one point, only to see Johnson deliver one of his trademark corner jumpers. Two possessions later, Johnson took a well-placed pass from Gerrity and converted a three-point play on an alley-oop. That put USC up 40-28 and electrified the crowd.

Key development: As goes the defense, so go the Trojans. USC is 9-1 when holding its opponent under 60 points. The last time USC allowed more than 60 points? December 5, against Georgia Tech.

It's looking like this team's defensive acumen can keep them competitive most every night.

"We're hanging our hat on that," Gerrity said. "We know it's giving us a chance to win every game."

The Sun Devils scored only eight points in the paint all game. Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic essentially made Boateng and ASU leading scorer Rihards Kuksiks non-factors down low — and wherever else they ventured.

Averaging a combined 21 points per game, the pair was held to five tonight.

"It was just hard to score on them at the rim," said Arizona State coach Herb Sendek. "Or really anywhere."

USC held the Arizona schools to a combined 87 points — no small feat considering their combined 16-10 records coming in.

"When you can hold two Pac-10 teams to 50 and 37 back-to-back, that means you’re playing hard on the defensive end," O'Neill said.

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