USC basketball: Trojans lead from start to finish, upset No. 19 Texas, 73-56
Thanks to sanctions, USC’s football team is hibernating this bowl season, leaving its men’s basketball team in a spotlight that usually arrives a month from now.
To help observe this atypical attention were the No. 19 Texas Longhorns, who visited the Galen Center Sunday along with a season-best crowd.
And from start to finish, the Trojans owned that spotlight, playing their most complete game of the season against a more athletic, skilled and talented team, defeating the Longhorns, 73-56.
The win snapped a two-game skid, and paid Texas back for a 19-point beating in Austin last season.
It also ends USC’s role in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series, which ceases this season. USC had a 2-4 record in the series.
But even against a largely pro-Texas crowd that boomed the Longhorns' "Texas Fight" chant with ease, USC gave Texas all the fight it wanted –- and then some.
The Trojans jumped out to a 10-point lead 3 minutes 28 seconds before halftime when junior forward Nikola Vucevic hit consecutive three-point shots.
By intermission, Vucevic matched his scoring average (16) and he and his mates bolted out of the locker room on a 13-1 run to take a 20-point lead with 14:50 left.
It's USC’s first win against a ranked opponent since beating No. 20 UNLV last season.
In 11 games against ranked nonconference opponents, the Pacific 10 has two wins, similar to its 3-13 mark in that category last season that partly explained why only two of its teams advanced to the NCAA tournament.
But with one of those wins, USC now has a marquee line on its resume for the tournament selection committee to consider.
About 25 NBA scouts were in attendance, most of them to see Texas’ annual crop of talent, but Vucevic overshadowed them all, scoring a career-high 24 points on nine-of-17 shooting with nine rebounds.
"He’s a big guy who has shown great growth in his years at USC," said a scout from a Western Conference team. "He’s gotten stronger, but he needs to work on his agility."
Senior forward Alex Stepheson teamed with Vucevic to control the middle. Stepheson finished with 14 points on seven-of-nine shooting with 11 rebounds while still wearing a cast on his fractured left hand.
USC shot 23 for 47 (48.9%) from the field; Texas shot 18 for 56 (32.1%). The Trojans also won the rebounding battle, 36-30.
Reserve guard J’Covan Brown led the Longhorns with 17 points, and while it was Texas’ first true road game, former Compton Dominguez star guard Jordan Hamilton should have felt right at home, playing before upward of 100 friends and family members while a bounce pass (1.8 miles) away from the house he grew up in.
But the sophomore guard, who entered the game leading Texas in scoring (21.7), struggled. He finished with only 12 points on four-of-13 shooting in his first return to Los Angeles in a Texas uniform since leaving 18 months ago as a consensus national top-10 high school prospect.
Among the family and friends were his father, Greg, and two younger brothers, Isaac and Daniel, who are both 6-foot-5 guards that play at Crenshaw High.
Hamilton is considered a top-shelf NBA prospect, along with Texas forwards Gary Johnson (six points, eight rebounds) and Tristan Thompson (six points, five rebounds).
The crowd chanted "overrated" with 1:17 left as USC's lead stood at 71-56, and gave the Trojans a standing ovation after Stepheson blocked Johnson’s attempt at a putback.
USC hosts the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (6-2) on Saturday night, a modest appetizer compared to the road trips to Kansas (7-0) and Tennessee (6-0) that will follow.
-- Baxter Holmes
Photo: USC forward Nikola Vucevic goes to work in the post against Texas forward Matt Hill in the first half Sunday. Credit: Jason Redmond / Associated Press