USC: Lorenzo Romar

Basketball: Washington 80, USC 58

March, 1, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Almost everything about the USC basketball team's 2011-2012 season has been a full-fledged disappointment, from the Trojans' 6-24 record to the injuries that have ravaged the squad to downright embarrassing attendance numbers at the Galen Center.

Then there's freshman Byron Wesley, who continues to be the lone bright spot in a very dark canvas. The 6-5 guard set another career-high on Thursday in the Trojans' 80-58 loss to Washington, scoring a game-high 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting.

"If there's anything good about our season," USC coach Kevin O'Neill said after Thursday's game, "it's that this guy is really becoming a guy that's going to be hard to reckon with going forward in this league."

Wesley could now finish the season averaging double-digit points per game with strong performances in the regular-season finale against Washington State on Saturday and the Pac-12 tourney.

In his first five games, the Rancho Cucamonga native averaged 4.2 points per game. In his last five, he's putting up 18.4. He's also shooting 51 percent (37 of 72 attempts) in his last five compared to 27 percent (9 of 33) in his first five.

It's not hard to see the improvement.

Said O'Neill: "He is taking advantage of his opportunity, and good players do that."

Forward Garrett Jackson added 14 points for the Trojans. Washington's Terrence Ross led the Huskies with 18 points and forward Darnell Gant, an L.A. native, had 14 and a game-high nine rebounds.

Player of the game: Wesley was clearly USC's top performer; center James Blasczyk did have a career-high 10 points but only added three rebounds in his 33 minutes.

"This guy's becoming a premier player in this league," O'Neill said of Wesley.

Ross shot 8-of-13 from the field on his way to his 18 points. O'Neill said he looked at him as a prototypical NBA shooting guard, as long as he continued to improve his defense.

A sophomore, Ross is rated by most NBA draft prognosticators as a likely first-round selection in June's NBA draft if he chooses to declare.

Stat of the game: Washington (21-8, 14-3 in the Pac-12) out-rebounded the Trojans 49-23, the 16th-straight time USC has been out-rebounded this season.

"We miss so many shots that people get a lot of defensive rebounds," O'Neill said. "They're bigger and stronger than us. We don't have the capability to out-rebound people this year."

The last time the Trojans had more rebounds than an opponent was December 29 on the road against Cal, when they somehow produced 38 rebounds to the Bears' 25.

Quote of the game: "Kevin O'Neill is a testament to good coaching. They have one game left and have lost a lot of tough games and he is still fighting. He has been fighting all season." -- Washington coach Lorenzo Romar

His Huskies locked up a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title on Thursday, but it was interesting that Romar took time to praise O'Neill's coaching abilities in his postgame press conference. The two men have been complementary of each other in their three shared years in the conference.

Final notes: Attendance at the Galen Center was announced at 2,763, the lowest-ever number for a Pac-12 game in the history of the facility...With Senior Day on Saturday, O'Neill said he might start his lone senior -- walk-on guard Eric Strangis -- in the 3 p.m. contest against Washington State. For that game, the first 2,000 fans in attendance will receive a Maurice Jones bobblehead...With a 1-16 Pac-12 record, the Trojans are now locked into the No. 12 seed for the Pac-12 tourney, meaning they will play the No. 5-seeded team at 2:30 p.m. PT next Wednesday.

Basketball: Pac-12 media day notebook

October, 29, 2011
Notes and quotes from Friday's Pac-12 media day at L.A. Live not covered in our news story from the proceedings:

Typical O'Neill

USC coach Kevin O'Neill and guard Maurice Jones were the ninth tandem to the take the podium at the Conga Room, following Cal's Mike Montgomery and Jorge Gutierrez and preceding Washington's Lorenzo Romar and Darnell Gant.

As usual, O'Neill entertained the crowd with his jokes about taking care of Montgomery during his bladder-cancer surgery and his on-stage interactions with Jones.

At one point, O'Neill said that he was telling Jones right then -- for the first time -- that he'd be playing every minute of USC's games this season.

"I'm informing him of that right now," O'Neill said. "Because he's going to have to."

Then, in typical O'Neill fashion, he was very blunt about his team's chances for this season with Jio Fontan out for the year, Evan Smith out 6-8 weeks with a re-aggravation of his shoulder injury and Curtis Washington out for the year with a torn labrum.

"We're having our good days and our bad days," O'Neill said. "Sometimes we look good and some days we stink."

A sophomore leader

The good days depend a lot on the play of Jones, O'Neill has said. USC's 5-7 point guard is the team's only real on-court leader as one of only two returning players who played significant minutes last season.

The problem is that Jones can be very quiet. He may have been the least leader-like player on the team last year, often finding himself staying silent in the background while his teammates spoke up.

But that was because he was a freshman then, he says now.

"I've just got to be more vocal," Jones said Friday. "Last year was my freshman year. I was just trying to get my feet wet. This year KO told me to be more aggressive, but still keep that point guard mentality in mind and create for my teammates.

"It's going to be a long season."

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USC vs. Washington: Playing for a seeding

March, 5, 2011
Five questions -- well, four, plus a prediction -- that will go a long way toward deciding today's 7:30 p.m. game against Washington:

1. Is there enough left to play for?

An at-large bid is now officially out of the question for the Trojans (17-13, 9-8) after Thursday night's loss to Washington State, so USC is left playing tonight's game for an opportunity for a better seeding in the Pac-10 tournament next week at Staples Center. We detailed all the different seeding possibilities in an earlierin post, but, to summarize it, the Trojans can assure themselves themselves a No. 4 seeding with a win against the Huskies. They could still finish fourth no matter what they do if Cal and Washington State end up losing, but that's unlikely.

All season long, the stated goal for the Trojans has been to finish at the top of the conference or as close to the top as possible, but, in actuality, they're a middling team in the Pac-10, regardless of what happens tonight.

2. Another big game for Nik Vucevic?

Nikola Vucevic last 10 games have been Player of the Year caliber. He's averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds in his last 10 contests, spanning to late February, and has frequently carried the Trojans during that stretch.

He'll probably have to do that again tonight for USC to have any chance at upsetting the Huskies.

Then again, Vucevic had perhaps the best game of his career against Washington -- 28 points on nine field goal attempts and 14-of-14 free-throw shooting -- in December at the Galen Center, and the Trojans still fell short in a 73-67 overtime loss. Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill memorably said after that game that he was disappointed his team "wasted" a great performance from Vucevic.

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Nikola Vucevic maturing, leading the Trojans

February, 10, 2011
USC forward Nikola Vucevic is leading the squad in points and rebounds through 23 games and is earning heaps of praise from fellow Pac-10 coaches like Lorenzo Romar and Ben Howland. But Trojans head coach Kevin O'Neill is still reluctant to proclaim the junior as a future NBA player.

Read the full story here, and, for what it's worth, Vucevic is leading all scorers with 12 points and six rebounds through halftime at the Galen Center as the Trojans lead Oregon State 37-23.

We'll have a postgame report afterward.

Basketball: Washington 73, USC 67 (OT)

December, 29, 2010
LOS ANGELES -- Nikola Vucevic almost single-handedly led the Trojans to victory Wednesday against Washington.

Almost. But, as is often the case, a host of effective players proved better than one ultra-effective player, and the balanced and deep Huskies managed to top the Trojans, 73-67, in an exciting overtime game Wednesday in the teams' Pac-10 opener at the Galen Center.

USC (8-5, 0-1 in the Pac-10) led early and led late behind a career-high 28 points and 14 rebounds from Vucevic, only to squander both leads by falling victim to Washington's guard-heavy attack in the final minutes and extra period.

"We had our chances," USC coach Kevin O'Neill said. "We just didn't play particularly well.

"We didn't get it done on the offensive end like we needed."

Vucevic and Co. had a chance to win it in regulation when, with the score tied 58-58, Washington's Isaiah Thomas missed a contested 3-pointer with seven seconds left. But USC guard Jio Fontan, playing in only his fourth game as a Trojan, attempted to take the ball up the court for a last-second heave instead of calling a timeout and turned it over before getting up a shot.

O'Neill said it was his decision -- not Fontan's -- to not call a timeout. In overtime, USC collapsed, allowing the Huskies to surge to an 18-point period and take the game. Four Trojans played at least 40 minutes, but mistakes hurt them in the final five minutes.

"You can't win if you don't do the little things down the stretch," O'Neill said.

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USC-Washington: The Pac-10 opener

December, 29, 2010
A few notes and things to pay attention to during tonight's 7:30 p.m. game:
  • Washington was widely pronounced as the preseason favorite to win the Pac-10, but the Huskies didn't exactly back it up in preseason play with losses to Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas A&M. Still, the Lorenzo Romar-coached Huskies will present one of the biggest threats of any to the Trojans this season. They are probably the deepest team in the conference, and their starting lineup is more than a bit reminiscent of a deeper, more-experienced USC team -- although perhaps not as top-heavy, which could help USC if stars Jio Fontan and Nikola Vucevic play well tonight. Washington forwards Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday, both seniors, have added almost a combined 12 points to their scoring average this season. That's an impressive feat for four-year players in one program, and Bryan-Amaning in particular has been a great weapon for Romar this season.
  • USC needs to get a big game from Vucevic to win this one. Struggling of late, he must help facilitate the Trojans' offensive sets when Fontan, Donte Smith and Maurice Jones are bogged down by Washington's many guards. He must also resist the urge to shoot threes and instead work inside, where the Huskies were very vulnerable last season. Of course, Romar signed junior-college transfer Aziz N'Diaye, a 7-footer, precisely for this reason, but N'Diaye is inexperienced and still vunerable to Vucevic's polished post moves. USC forward Alex Stepheson vs. Bryan-Amaning will be a great matchup.
  • The player to watch for Washington is 5-foot-9 junior guard Isaiah Thomas, who's averaging 15.8 points, 3.9 assists and 3.8 rebounds for the Huskies. He plays off the ball, with 6-3 sophomore Abdul Gaddy holding down the point duties. Thomas struggled mightily in two games against the Trojans last season, averaging 9.5 points as the Huskies lost both times. Venoy Overton, a senior guard, was Washington's top scorer in USC's 87-61 win over the Huskies at the Galen Center last January. But Overton is having his worst season since his freshman year and averaging fewer than six points. Swingmen C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs have taken some of his minutes and have both been able to produce the occasional big game this season -- Suggs scored 15 against USF last week and Wilcox 20 against Long Beach State last month. Sound like a lot of different players for the Huskies? It is. Romar has a 10-man rotation he uses religiously.

The pick? USC, in a close one, with both teams scoring under 70 points. We'll have a postgame report on the blog.

Preview: USC at Washington

February, 18, 2010
Tonight marks a rematch for the Trojans — the good kind.

Because USC (15-9, 7-5) floored the Washington Huskies the last time around, 87-61, behind double-figure point totals from all five starters, and tonight, they get to face Washington again.

But the Huskies have learned their lesson, they say. USC is just a different — and difficult — matchup for Washington (17-8, 7-6).

"We learned that we better play to the best of our ability or we're going to have a tough time with SC," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar told the Seattle Times this week. "It's probably the most difficult matchup for us in this league because of their size and length. They do a great job of defending."

At the same time, Washington's not the best matchup for the Trojans either. Offensively, the Huskies' top two average a combined 37.9 points per game, and all of three of their guards present matchup problems for USC. But coach Kevin O'Neill hopes that an unusual game plan will play dividends Thursday night.

“Washington’s going to press us and try to keep the pressure up on us,” O’Neill said Wednesday. “But if we can get a few easy baskets and let that flow, it’ll hopefully help us on defense.”

This makes for a remarkable switch from the usual, as the Trojans usually rely on the defense to funnel into the offense — not the other way around.

Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. at Washington's Edmundson Pavilion. We'll have halftime and postgame updates.

Notes: For updates on the NCAA hearings currently taking place in Tempe, Ariz., check our Ted Miller's Pac-10 blog. Miller also confirms Clay Helton, as we reported yesterday, has been hired as a USC football assistant. ... In women's basketball news, guard Jacki Gemelos will make her Galen Center debut tonight against Washington State at 7 p.m. Gemelos, a redshirt junior, missed all of three seasons and part of this season because of various knee injuries before returning earlier this month.

Final: USC 87, Washington 61

January, 24, 2010
Coming off a disappointing seven-point loss to Washington State, expectations might have been low for USC's Saturday night matchup with Washington at the Galen Center.

But, boy, were those expectations wrong.

The Trojans dominated the Huskies in nearly every area, scoring a season-high 87 points while limiting the high-scoring Huskies to 61.

USC (12-7, 4-3) had five players in double figures, including forward Marcus Johnson (22 points), Dwight Lewis (19), and Alex Stepheson (15). The Trojans also got 15 points and seven assists from Mike Gerrity and 11 points and 13 rebounds from Nikola Vucevic.

Washington (12-7, 3-5) didn't get quite the same offensive production. Reserve guard Venoy Overton had a team-high 18 points and Isaiah Thomas had 14, but leading scorer Quincy Pondexter was held to two points.

In all, it's safe to say USC coach Kevin O'Neill was pleased with his team's performance.

"The guys did an admirable job of bouncing back after a bad loss," O'Neill said. "We played a full 40 minutes and we defended well."

Key player: Johnson was ultra-efficient, both on offense and defense. He scored his 22 points on only 11 shots, all the while nearly single-handedly limiting Pondexter to a miserable one-for-10 shooting effort.

Altogether, it's safe to say Johnson had a good night. A reporter asked him afterward if he was happier with his defensive or offensive performance.

"I'm just happy about the victory we got as a team today," Johnson said. "I'm elated about it."

Key play: With six minutes left and the score 69-48, Pondexter missed a three-point attempt. Vucevic — who played considerably better than he had against Washington State — took the rebound and relayed it to Gerrity. From beyond mid-court, Gerrity proceeded to lob an incredible pass to Johnson.

Both players said there was no eye contact involved, just pure instinct.

Johnson jumped from a distance — "the three-point line," Stepheson said — and reached the ball just in time to produce a thunderous slam. Fans roared, players reacted passionately, and the Galen Center video board replayed the sequence over and over.

Key development: It's more of a re-development than a development, but the USC defense reverted back to its normal self. The Trojans held the Huskies to 37 percent shooting and forced 13 turnovers, only two days after allowing 45 percent shooting to Washington State.

"For us, it all starts and ends with defense," O'Neill said. "When we defend like we did the other night, we lose. When we defend like we did tonight, we always have a chance to win."

Said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar: "Their defense was astounding."

Quote of the night: Stepheson, on his thought process during the lob from Gerrity to Johnson: "He did not throw a lob right now. Tell me he did not throw a lob right now."

Notes: USC football coach Lane Kiffinwas in the building, as announced early on in the second half. Kiffin received considerable applause from the crowd of 5,876. ... USC's previous high in points was 77 — against both Tennessee and UC Riverside.



C. Kessler413292350536
J. Allen25013375.39
J. Davis1255504.44
N. Agholor97122312.611
J. Smith5165812.95