Final Score: USC 86 – SCU 73
Maurice Jones, the 5’7″ freshman point guard, erupted tonight to carry USC to its first 2-0 start in 10 years. For the second straight game, Jones played all 40 minutes because the Trojans lack depth right now. Mo Jones led all scorers with 29 and had several impressive baskets along the way. Throughout the game, he used his quickness to penetrate the Santa Clara defense. In the second half of a close game, Jones took control of the offense and did most of the scoring. On one play, he was falling away on a layup after contact and miraculously netted the ball. Once again, his assist total was low, but he had an excellent play where he drove inside and dished it to a wide open Alex Stepheson for an uncontested layup. Although Jones is only a freshman, he played with tremendous poise and controlled the offense well. During crucial moments, he took charge and scored at will with his shiftyness.
USC’s defense was much better in the second half than in the first. The Broncos came out and made 6 of their first 8 threes mainly because they weren’t highly contested. However, a few adjustments by Kevin O’Neill forced the defense to tighten up and SCU made just 3 of their next 17 shots from beyond the arc. They held SCU down for several long stretches late, and that allowed them to pull away. The Trojans forced 11 turnovers and Santa Clara shot a touch over 43% total. One area of concern is the performance Kevin Foster turned in. The guard recorded 26 points, and the guard play from opponents will be better in Pac-10 play with guys like Isiah Thomas on opposing benches.
One surprising stat was that USC only out-rebounded SCU by 2, and SCU held the advantage for much of the game. Early on, Vucevic and Stepheson were settling for mid-range jumpers and weren’t utilizing their superior size inside. I know its early and these guys are still getting a feel for the offense with new guys around them, but it would be nice to see them become a more forceful presence inside. Vucevic and Stepheson are big, strong guys who should use their muscle to wear opponents down. In the second half, Vucevic came out and played well inside, finishing with 22 points and 11 boards. The big news before the game was that Alex Stepheson broke his left hand Saturday against Irvine. He played all 40 minutes and registered 6 points. Stepheson looked fine on the court, although it looked like he had a club on his hand with the soft cast in place.
USC is off to its second 2-0 start in the last ten years. While the opponents haven’t been perennial powerhouses, the Trojans have recorded two double digit wins and have looked considerably better in the second half of each game. Most importantly, freshman Maurice Jones and Bryce Jones have looked like quality players and should continue to get better and better for Pac-10 play.