Feb 10, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans coach Bob Cantu (right) and guard Jio Fontan (1) react in the second half against the Washington Huskies at the Galen Center. USC defeated Washington 71-60. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

USC Basketball: Bob Cantu Setting Winning Precedent

Interim Head Coach Bob Cantu took over the reigns for USC on January 14th guiding the Trojans through a very difficult stretch of their schedule. After 12-years as an assistant coach, the substitute teacher was granted the opportunity to run a program for the rest of the season, in the midst of an important Pac-12 race.

The Trojans are 4-3 since Bob Cantu has taken over the reigns and are now tied for 5th place in the conference. This from a team that won only one conference game last season. The tides turned from bad to worse after playing the nations toughest, according to BPI rankings, while losing to bad teams like UCI and Georgia.

All that being said, the fate of USC’s future was placed in Cantu’s hands with a calm demeanor. This style has led the Trojans to a more relaxed style of basketball on the court and confidence off the court. This in contrast to the hard-nosed, intense Kevin O’Neill who brought the passion to every possession of the game, with a certain sense of disconnect with the current group of Trojans.

The long-time babysitter has seized his opportunity on the center stage, making a legitimate case to run this program in the coming years. Let’s take a closer look at how the Trojans have fared, and more importantly played, under Interim Head Coach Bob Cantu.

In his very first game as a Head Coach, the Trojans battled with No. 21 Oregon on January 17th. The Ducks were 14-2 heading into the contest, including wins over UNLV, Arizona and Vanderbilt. On the other side of the court, the USC Trojans began their Cantu Era coming off an impressive road victory over Utah, winning their first Pac-12 road game in over two years.

Before this game USC was averaging 63 PPG near the bottom of the conference. That night the Trojans came out firing from the field, scoring 74 points on 44-percent shooting. This was the beginning of a USC offensive explosion, so to speak, in which the Trojans have scored less than 69 only once.

The Trojans have gone 4-2 since that point by playing team-oriented basketball on the offensive end of the floor. Now averaging close to 72 PPG in Pac-12 play, the offense is taking and making more shots; something USC fans and players are thoroughly enjoying.

The ball is moving much faster around the court, as players are acting with more aggression and fluidity under Head Coach Bob Cantu. This allows for more open-shots and in-turn higher shooting percentages from the field. Once the Trojans started making more shots, defenses are forced to respect their shooting prowess, opening the lane for attacks to the basket.

This style of offense works with an athletic team like USC that can beat opponents in many ways, whether it be with the 3-PT shot or finishing at the rim. Three-point shooting may actually be the most telling stat under Bob Cantu as the Trojans are shooting over 36-percent as a team. When the shots start falling, the confidence spreads amongst the locker room.

Eric Wise and Byron Wesley have played well the entire season scorers throughout the season, but are taking the next step in conference play. Wise has been averaging 14 points and 6.4 rebounds in his last 12 games at USC while Wesley has scored in double figures in five of seven games.

The man who has really flourished during this transition has to be J.T. Terrell. The star transfer was in Kevin O’Neill’s dog house, but is now playing like a free man with confidence and swagger on the court.

“Right now we’re just playing with no leash, no limits,”  Terrell said. This is the feeling amongst the entire team as the Trojan Team of Transfers are finally starting to feel at home.

The proof is in the pudding as the Trojans have increased their scoring totals, free-throw shooting percentage, and have played and won numerous close games. Five of the first seven games that Bob Cantu has coached have come down to five points or less, with the Trojans going 3-2 in that stretch.

The team is definitely improving but the on-the-court antics can drive many insane. Pre-game dunks, half-court shots and shenanigans on the bench would have driven Kevin O’Neill over the edge. I am not necessarily supporting or denying this behavior, it just seems to be allowed much more in the last few weeks.

Cantu seems to have won over his players, and won over many fans when he beat UCLA on Jan. 30, but will he win over Haden? Haden has publicly said that he was hired on a part-time basis, with a full coaching search expected after the season.

The Trojans have played well under Cantu this season, for many reasons, but can the success continue. This man has coached through numerous tenures at USC including Mike Bibby, Tim Floyd and Kevin O’Neill. Through the thick of USC Basketball one thing remains constant: the confident presence of Bob Cantu.

If Bob Cantu can keep his Trojans at this high-paced style of play, the team will continue to compete and the fans will keep responding positively. The home crowd bought into the final product they witnessed Sunday night against Washington, so maybe this is the type of coaching USC Basketball has always needed.

Regardless of what happens in the offseason, one thing is for sure: the Trojans needed a change of direction in leadership and Bob Cantu has been just the spark to get the electricity flowing for these USC Trojans.

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Tags: Bob Cantu J.T. Terrell USC Basketball USC Trojans

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