LOS ANGELES -- Either Kevin O'Neill game-planned better for this game than ever before or his players just never listen to him.
The second-year USC coach had the visiting Longhorns pegged exactly right Sunday night, preparing his players just right to match Texas' speed and athleticism on offense and getting his players in tip-top shape defensively for one of the biggest games they'll play this year, as USC handily topped No. 20 Texas, 73-56, at the Galen Center.
It was Trojans' first win over a ranked opponent since they upset No. 9 Tennessee at home last December. Afterward, O'Neill had a telling remark in talking about what worked against Texas compared to what had so clearly not worked in recent weeks against teams like Rider, Bradley and TCU.
"That's the first time we've really game-planned and guys followed it," O'Neill said, explaining that his group of young players is simply not used to the task of executing a real, live game plan.
"Finally tonight and this week in practice, we found out what's important to us and that's playing good defense," O'Neill continued. "We executed defensively about as well as you can against a really good basketball team."
Texas didn't have much offensively, but USC did its part in limiting the Longhorns. Leading scorer Jordan Hamilton, averaging nearly 22 points a game coming in, had 12 points on 13 shots. Reserve guard J'Covan Brown led the Longhorns with 17 points but shot 5-of-15 from the field. Defensively, they inexplicably stuck in a man-to-man defense all game and left Vucevic in one-on-one situations throughout the first half, when he scored 16 points.
"We didn't deserve to win," Texas Coach Rick Barnes said. "We got outplayed in every area of the game."
Player of the game: Nikola Vucevic scored a career-high 24 points for USC, and he truly was the offense's main facilitator in the first half, with the ball running through him on the majority of plays. He also managed to pass the ball quite well out of double-teams -- when Texas finally sent them in the second half, at least -- and added nine rebounds and a block, with no turnovers. He did foul out with 2:09 to go in the game, but the outcome was just about decided at that point.
O'Neill wasn't all that pleased with his game afterward, instead choosing to criticize his up-and-down effort this season. In a two-point loss to Nebraska last week, Vucevic had just six points on 15 shots.
Per Texas' Barnes, though, Vucevic was able to get whatever position he wanted against the Longhorns' undersized bigs -- a key factor to point guard Maurice Jones (who had a career-high six assists) being able to take over the game in the second half by easily penetrating into an empty key whenever Vucevic would clear out to the 3-point line.
Stat of the game: Texas, a team that entered Sunday night shooting 47 percent from the field on the season, shot 25 percent in the second half and 32 percent overall.
Credit that to two things: a great defensive game from USC -- especially from defensive stopper Marcus Simmons, who was on Hamilton for most of the night -- and a poor overall effort from the Longhorns, who truthfully didn't look all that fired up at any point in the game.
Barnes said his team played "way too casually"; it sure seems like he was right.
Quote of the game: "I just knew right then our team changed -- [180 degrees.]"
Simmons, a senior and one of USC's three captains, was describing USC's first practice after returning home from a disastrous two-game road trip this week. O'Neill dug into the players and ran what players described as the hardest practice of the season.
It was clearly effective. From the get-go, USC's energy level was on, well, another level than it had been in any other game this season.
Said forward Alex Stepheson of O'Neill's message that day: "He made his point. If you want to win, you're gonna have to play defense."
Notes: Vucevic made his first two 3-pointers on Sunday, then missed the next three he took. Asked if it was easy to fall in love with that shot, he said: "It is. I will admit it -- it is. I didn't use to shoot it real well and once you get to make some you kinda fall in love with it."...USC has just one team on its schedule in the next 13 days: Northern Arizona. Then comes guard Jio Fontan's debut, against Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse. O'Neill had no qualms in calling Fontan his team's best player after Sunday's game. ...The game was part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series. Texas had been the only team in the series' history not to lose until Sunday. The all-time standings are 26-20, Big 12.
Vucevic talked afterward about shooting the three, working in tandem with Stepheson inside the key and rebounding from the season's low point thus far: