Trojans close in on school record for losses

USC has eight days to ponder the possibility of tying a school record it does not want after its 64-54 loss to UCLA on Wednesday.

The Trojans, who lost their fifth straight game and 14th in the last 15, do not play again until they face a hot Arizona team in Tucson on Feb. 23.

USC will be heavy underdogs in that game, and if it loses, it would suffer its 22nd loss of the season, tying the school single-season mark.

The Trojans stayed somewhat close to Arizona in the first meeting this season, a 57-46 loss on Jan. 8, but that was in Los Angeles, and that was when the Trojans had Aaron Fuller and Dewayne Dedmon, a pair of frontcourt starters who have since been lost for the season due to knee injuries.

Without them, the Trojans have virtually no inside presence and are woefully lacking in size, which was evident when the Bruins outrebounded the Trojans 44-24 on Wednesday.

The Trojans are playing with just six scholarship players for the rest of the season, so the long rest between games should help. However, it won’t make the players any bigger.

Arizona frontcourt players Jesse Perry (20 points) and Solomon Hill (10 rebounds) had productive games the last time the teams met, and the Trojans have to no way to defend those two at this point.

The Trojans continue to play solid defense, as they did against UCLA, and they should be able to slow the pace on Arizona, but they simply do not have enough offensive weapons. They have failed to break the 50-point barrier in nine of their past 14 games.

“We don’t have the bodies, the depth or the ability right now to win these games,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill told the Los Angeles Times after the loss to UCLA. “But we did have enough in us to play hard all the time.”

Guard Maurice Jones would have to have an extraordinary shooting night for the Trojans to stay close on the Wildcats’ home court, and he has not shot well in USC’s recent games.

Two days after playing Arizona, the Trojans play at Arizona State, which is one of the few remaining games in which USC has a reasonable chance to win.

NOTES, QUOTES

   –USC sophomore guard Maurice Jones entered last week leading the Pac-12 in minutes played for a team that leads the conference in season-ending injuries.

Jones is the Trojans’ leading scorer and is everything to a team that resides in last place. The 5-foot-7 floor leader carries a heavy burden, a crushing load that nonetheless never seems to remove the spark from his game.

But it’s telling just how much worse USC can be when Jones is not on the floor.

USC was hanging around, competing reasonably with Pac-12 leader Cal at the Galen Center when Jones had to come out of the game after suffering a cut on his wrist. The bleeding didn’t immediately stop, so he came out for some treatment.

While he was gone — about 4 1/2 minutes — the sky fell on the Trojans.

Cal, ahead just 38-32 early in the second half when Jones departed, led 53-36 by the time he returned. A 15-4 run and the game was over.

“When Mo’s not in there, we don’t function very well,” Coach Kevin O’Neill said. “Not that we function at a high level when he is in there.”

Jones, who had 17 points in the 74-49 loss to Cal, conceded the Trojans’ impossible plight “a long time ago.” USC is without five scholarship players lost to season-ending injuries, two of them since the first time the Trojans faced Cal.

Jones doesn’t have a negative thing to say about his remaining young teammates. “You can’t really blame them,” he said, “They’re all new to this.

“We have seven guys in black (warmup) suits,” Jones said of the Trojans’ bench, including two red-shirting transfers. “We have a whole ‘nother team.”

Well, next season they will.

   –USC scored the first three points of the second half to cut Cal’s lead to 35-32, before the Bears used a 18-4 run to take control.
   –Cal’s 74 points were the second-most allowed all season by USC, which entered the game as the Pac-12’s scoring defense leader at 58.7 points per game.
   –USC was 3-for-17 from 3-point range against Cal, then 4-for-14 in its 59-47 loss to Stanford. The Trojans were 8-for-47 from beyond the arc the past three games through Feb. 12.
   BY THE NUMBERS: 12 — Times this season the Trojans had been held to 50 points or fewer in a game, through Feb. 12.
   QUOTE TO NOTE: “Like a rerun.” — USC sophomore PG Maurice Jones, on the monotony of losing after a 75-49 setback to Cal.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
   FUTURES MARKET:
This season has been a disaster, largely because of factors the Trojans could not control. Coach Kevin O’Neill has five scholarship players sidelined for the season by injuries — three of whom would have been starters. Two more players sitting out as transfers will either start or play a lot next season. It should add up to substantial instant improvement, especially considering that freshmen such as Byron Wesley and Alexis Moore have gained on-the-job training this season. The key — besides a return to health — will be O’Neill’s ability to reassmble a roster whose parts will be unfamiliar to one another. F Eric Wise was the top dog at UC Irvine and will expect to play a big role in his one remaining season. PG Jio Fontan will return from a knee injury, but will have to mesh with junior-to-be Maurice Jones, who has run the team this season. There will be lots of chemistry issues to sort out. It’s likely a problem O’Neill cannot wait to tackle.
   ON THE SPOT: USC is approaching records it does not want to own, and there seems little way to avoid them. If the Trojans lose any one of their last five games, including a first-round game in the Pac-12 tournament, they would tie a school record for losses set in 1989. And with just six wins, the Trojans could still tie the school record for fewest victories in a season, a mark set in 1977, when USC went 6-20. The Trojans need just one win to erase that embarrassing record, but the only remaining games that seem winnable are the Feb. 25 road game against Arizona State and a March 3 home game against Washington State, although USC lost to both in their first meetings of the season. The only Pac-12 team USC has beaten this season — Utah — happens to be one of the conference teams USC only plays once this season. The one school record the Trojans won’t break is the worst winning percentage, because the 1918 Trojans went winless at 0-2.

PLAYER NOTES
   –Sophomore G Maurice Jones had three steals against UCLA, giving him 118 for his career and moving him into 10th place on the school’s career steals list with more than two seasons of eligibility remaining.
   –Sophomore F Garrett Jackson scored 15 points against UCLA, and he has averaged 11.2 points since becoming a starter nine games ago.