USC basketball: Trojans win season opener against UC Irvine, 62-49
USC provided its fans little optimism in its 62-49 season-opening win Saturday at the Galen Center against UC Irvine.
The Trojans' offense slogged along, particularly against a zone defense, and many shots were forced as the shot clock was winding down, which were all problems the team faced last season when it had the Pacific 10 Conference's worst scoring offense (59.6).
Not only that, but any attempts at a transition game by USC, which was going to be an emphasis this season with dynamic freshman point guard Maurice Jones, were stifled when Maurice would find himself alone on a fast break, waiting for his own teammates.
And while junior forward Nikola Vucevic proved why he was one of 50 players named to the John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 List, scoring 19 points on six-of-10 shooting with 14 rebounds, his frontcourt teammate Alex Stepheson looked like more of a liability than a key to the team's success.
Stepheson shot just two for nine, scoring six points while grabbing 13 rebounds, and he had several missed opportunities.
The 6-foot-10, 250-pound senior had back-to-back turnovers in the first half, one on a careless outlet pass that was stolen and turned into a basket for Irvine, and the other when he traveled on after grabbing an offensive rebound near the basket.
In the second half, Stepheson had two tip-in tries right at the hoop against an undersized Irvine team, and he missed both at the 10:31 mark. USC second-year Coach Kevin O'Neill screamed and stomped his dress shoes into Jim Sterkel Court at the play.
If there were positives, they came in Maurice and his roommate and fellow freshman guard Bryce Jones (no relation). Maurice made his first two shots and later made consecutive three-point shots in the first half, helping USC to a 17-11 lead.
Maurice shot four of 12, including three of eight from beyond the arc, for 14 points. Maurice, who more than proved his above-average ball-handling skills, also shot four of 12 and scored 13 points while recording four assists.
Overall, USC shot 19 of 55 (34.5%) and out-rebounded Irvine 47-26.
The Anteaters were led by forwards Eric Wise (12 points) and Pavol Losonsky (13 points).
USC faces Santa Clara at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Galen Center. The Broncos went 11-21 last season and return all five starters and 12 letterman.
Santa Clara was picked to finish fourth in the West Coast Conference preseason poll and the Broncos' leading returning scorer is redshirt sophomore guard Kevin Foster (19.8).
The Trojans are 19-8 all-time against Santa Clara, but lost the last meeting, 74-54, on Dec. 2, 1983. The Broncos won their season opener against Cal State Bakersfield, 82-77, on Friday.
-- Baxter Holmes