Trojans still searching for leaders
USC coach Kevin O'Neill is direct in everything he says and does, and that especially goes for his basketball team.
"We're young, inexperienced and leaderless," he told the Los Angeles Times. "That's a very bad combination for a basketball team."
He's certainly right that it hasn't been a winning equation so far. The Trojans (5-12, 0-4) sat alone in last place in the Pac-12 standings after the first two weekends of the conference schedule.
They lost 62-53 at home to a short-handed Arizona State squad, then fell 57-46 to Arizona. That makes nine losses in the past 10 games.
"I worry about our players and how they handle it, on and off the court, because I don't want it to affect their school or any of that stuff," O'Neill said.
The Arizona State loss was particularly galling -- if not downright embarrassing -- because Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek had suspended three of his players beforehand.
"I'm sure our fans are frustrated," O'Neill said. "We're frustrated. The players are frustrated. The bottom line is if let someone shoot 61 percent on your court, it's going to be hard to win."
The Trojans need a leader on the floor and in the locker room -- someone other than their coach -- and O'Neill isn't sure he's got one.
"No, not really," he said. He called sophomore point guard Maurice Jones -- the team's lone returning starter -- more of a "Robin than a Batman."
The players are at a loss to explain what's happening to them.
"We've got to figure out what's going wrong and how we can fix it," center Dewayne Dedmon said. "I don't think we let down. We weren't guarding how we usually do."
O'Neill cannot comprehend that his team might be looking past an opponent. Not at this point.
"To me, it would be incredulous to take anyone lightly," he said. "But if that is human nature, I hope it was a lesson."
--USC had converted just 20.2 percent (10-for-45) from the 3-point arc in its four conference games after going 1-for-15 vs. Arizona.
--In their nine losses over the past 10 games through Jan. 8, the Trojans were averaging just 54.4 points. They scored only 16 first-half points in their 56-46 defeat to Arizona.
--The Arizona game was first matchup of the teams since USC coach Kevin O'Neill missed the meeting in the Pac-10 tournament last year after being suspended for an altercation with an Arizona booster in a downtown Los Angeles hotel lobby.
BY THE NUMBERS: 61 -- The most points USC had scored in any of its 12 defeats through Jan. 8.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That was a desperation game, we needed to get a win, and they came out with a lot more energy than we did." -- Trojans G Alexis Moore, after the loss to Arizona State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. UCLA, Jan. 15
KEY MATCHUPS: Trojans sophomore 7-footer Dewayne Dedmon will face a huge test. He will be matched against an apparently rejuvenated Joshua Smith. The Bruins' 6-foot-10, 300-plus-pound sophomore scored 18 points against Arizona State in what coach Ben Howland called his best game of the season. Dedmon cannot allow Smith to get position near the basket. USC has won four of the past five meetings.
FUTURES MARKET: With such a shallow roster, the Trojans are counting on early contributions next season from their newcomers. Two of them already are practicing with the team -- Wake Forest transfer Ari Stewart and UC Irvine defector Eric Wise. Strahinja Gavrilovic, a 6-foot-8, 220-pounder from Serbia, currently is playing at La Jolla Prep near San Diego. J.T. Terrell, a 6-3 guard, may be a bit more of a risk. He will arrive as a junior after completing this season at Peninsula JC in Washington. Before that, he played his freshman season at Wake Forest, where he averaged 11.1 points and showed a willingness to play tough defense but also was cited for a DUI and ultimately dismissed from the program.
--Sophomore PG Maurice Jones scored 13 points on 4-for-11 shooting against Arizona State, then had 14 on 3-for-13 accuracy against Arizona.
--Junior F Aaron Fuller had 14 points but just three rebounds in the loss to Arizona State. He scored just one point and attempted only one shot from the field against Arizona.
--Sophomore C Dewayne Dedmon had eight points and seven rebounds against Arizona State, then had 11 points and eight rebounds three days later vs. Arizona.