Final Score: USC 62 -UC Irvine 49
USC started the season off on the right foot with a victory today at the Galen Center. While the student section attendance was sparse as usual, the rest of the crowd seemed larger than last year.
The Trojans used strong defense and rebounding to spark their victory. USC out-rebounded UC Irvine by a count of 44-26, giving the Men of Troy second and third chances on several possession. Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson combined for 27 boards and stood tall inside. Irvine couldn’t counter the size and physicality that the two presented. Defensively, USC played their hallmark stingy defense under coach Kevin O’Neill and held Irvine to 34.6% and 25% (5-20) from beyond the arc. For the first ten minutes of the second half, Irvine managed a meager five points, which allowed USC to open things up after leading by just 6 at the half.
Offensively, USC continued to struggle against a zone defense and didn’t seem to have any real set plays. The Trojans moved the ball well, but it was on the perimeter and they failed to penetrate on a consistent basis. Vucevic led all scorer with 19, but most of his points came after coming up with rebounds inside or from outside shots. The three-point shot was taken often, as USC attempted 22 in total and 13 in the first half alone. Alex Stepheson recorded a meager 6 points, and shot 2-9 mostly because he attempted mid-range jump shots instead of forcing the issue and penetrating. Last year, the Trojans weren’t known for their offense, and today showed they still have some improvements. However, they should expect a huge boost when Jio Fontan becomes eligible in the second semester. Another positive was the free-throw shooting. USC struggled last season to consistently make free throws and add to leads or close out games. Today, the Trojans were 17-21 from the charity stripe.
Bryce Jones,who played shooting guard, is a fearless player. In the first half, he was the only Trojan with enough confidence to shoot the rock at a time when nobody on the floor wanted to put up a shot. With 29 minutes of play, Jones recorded 14 points on 4-12 shooting (3-8). He has a good wing span and height that allowed him to be all over the floor and even secure 8 rebounds.
Maurice Jones, who played point guard, was a lot smaller than I expected. Although he is undersized, Jones has incredible ball control. He dribbled deftly in and out of the defense and even went behind the back on a few occasions. His quickness allowed him to dink and dive into the paint on occasion and show off shifty moves. Unfortunately, he only recorded 4 assists in 40 minutes. However, you have to believe he will progress as a distributor of the basketball and there is a peace of mind that comes when a player with his ball-handling skills is in possession.
Today’s contest was rather sloppy. USC turned the ball over 14 times and looked out of sync at times on offense. Kevin O’Neill was seen stamping the floor often in frustration at the execution of his team. However, today was the first game of the year and they have time to continue to gel before the tough non-conference games. For now, the young players are getting a chance to get a feel for the speed of the college game and adjust before Pac-10 play starts.