USC: Ty Abbott

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 State: Senior Day

February, 26, 2011
2/26/11
1:02
PM 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 State:

1. It's Senior Day for Marcus Simmons, Donte Smith and Alex Stepheson. What effect will that have?


First of all, the trio -- along with walk-on senior James Dunleavy -- will be honored in a pregame ceremony today, with family members joining them on the court with coach Kevin O'Neill. Simmons is the only one of them to spend all four years of his college career at USC, with Smith transferring from Mt. San Antonio College after his freshman season and Stepheson coming out west after two years at North Carolina. But, for USC's last two seasons under O'Neill, all three have been fairly crucial to keeping USC afloat in tough times. Expect emotionally charged performances from all three, and Stepheson especially.

2. Trap game?


Arizona State's won only one of its last 11 games and only two total games in Pac-10 play, but the Sun Devils are a senior-laden team; three of their four top scorers are fourth-year players. And a senior-laden team, in the late parts of conference schedules, tends to mean a great-effort team, with players intent on putting up good performances in their final collegiate contests.

ASU seniors Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksiks combined for 41 points -- two-thirds of all ASU's points -- the last time the Trojans and Sun Devils matched up, last month in Tempe.

3. Nikola Vucevic is really gaining steam in recent weeks. Can he keep it up?


Vucevic, the 6-10, 260-pound junior, is beginning to make his case for serious postseason honors in the conference. Arizona's Derrick Williams appears to have the Pac-10 player of the year award on lock, but Vucevic is probably the No. 3 candidate for that spot at this point. He's also a surefire first team conference selection, and it'd be very hard to keep him out of second-round NBA draft talks if he puts up three more 20-point, 10-rebound performances in the Trojans' last three conference games.

Remember, Arizona State has nobody to guard him, save for 7-2 Canadian freshman Jordan Bachynski. This could be another opportun9ity for Vucevic to take over.

4. Can Donte Smith rebound for a good shooting night?


Smith didn't score a single point in Thursday's win over Arizona, a rare occurrence that hadn't happened yet this season and hadn't happened since the Trojans' second-to-last game last season against Arizona State. While Jio Fontan picked up the slack for him with a season-high-tying 21 points, USC will need Smith today and next week if it wants to make any serious postseason noise.

He played 34 minutes, too, so it's not like he wasn't on the court enough. He played more minutes than Fontan. But he only took four shots. It's a good bet he'll come out firing today on his Senior Day.

5. Who will win?

USC will set itself up for an intriguing final weekend with a convincing win over the Sun Devils on Saturday. Next week's games against Washington and Washington State will have some significant meaning for the Trojans.

But I suspect they'll still make today's game interesting. Saturday games, as detailed last week, are a challenge for this team, and it will be dealing with a momentum loss going down from the high of the Arizona win. It's O'Neill's job to rein his players in for two hours today to secure the victory.

Basketball: USC 63, ASU 61

January, 27, 2011
1/27/11
8:28
PM PT
Hey, all that matters is the 'W', right?

USC (12-9, 4-4 in Pac-10) snuck away with a 63-61 victory over Arizona State in Tempe on Thursday, getting a key 26 points from Nikola Vucevic to level its conference record back to .500. The Trojans didn't do anything particularly well, but they did just enough for the win -- something you couldn't say about most of their games in recent weeks.

We focused in our preview about the need for 5-foot-7 point guard Maurice Jones to be more aggressive. Jones was Thursday, finishing with 14 points, six assists and six steals for his best game in more than a month. The steals were a career-high and the points and assists were the most he'd put up in a game in a month. Reserve guard Donte Smith played 37 minutes -- starter Jio Fontan was plagued with foul trouble -- and finished with 11 points.

ASU's Rihards Kuksiks had 22 points, including five 3-pointers, and guard Ty Abbott added 19 for the Sun Devils. Only other player had more than three points, though, and ASU clearly had no answer defensively for Vucevic. 7-footers Ruslan Pateev and Jordan Bachynski picked up four quick fouls in 13 minutes; the Sun Devils went small for most of the game.

This was coach Kevin O'Neill's third Pac-10 road win in two years on the job. USC now faces Arizona on Saturday in Tucson.

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