USC basketball: Smith's 22 points lead Trojans to 60-52 win over Northern Arizona
It's finals week at USC, so the Trojans men's basketball team fittingly faced an unusual test Saturday at the Galen Center against Northern Arizona.
What looked like an easy win on the surface really wasn't when one considered the context: the Lumberjacks entered the game having won seven straight and hailed from the Big Sky Conference, the same league as Montana, which shocked UCLA six days earlier.
But though USC could've easily slipped up after upsetting No. 19 Texas on Sunday, the Trojans didn't, thanks to senior guard Donte Smith, who scored a career-high 22 points in a 60-52 win.
With USC President Max Nikias sitting courtside, Smith, who came into the game averaging 7.7 points, shined off the bench, scoring 14 consecutive points during a game-deciding second-half run that gave the Trojans a 54-40 lead with 5 minutes 28 seconds left.
Jones made four three-point shots during the run. His previous career high was 14 points in USC's loss at Nebraska on Nov. 27.
USC (6-4) started slowly, and stood tied with the Lumberjacks, 9-9, before going on an 8-0 run.
Northern Arizona (7-3) cut that lead to four points with 7:04 remainingbefore halftime, and USC Coach Kevin O'Neill called a timeout, frustrated by his team's play.
The Trojans apparently got his message as they responded with a 10-2 run to close the half.
Junior forward Nikola Vucevic had 13 points and 10 rebounds for his Pacific 10 Conference-leading sixth double-double of the season. Freshman guard Maurice Jones had nine points and four assists.
USC shot 21 for 53 (39.6%) for the game; Northern Arizona shot 20 for 55 (36.4%). USC won the rebounding battle, 41-29, the eighth time in 10 games it has done so this season.
But Jones, who was reportedly playing in front of many family and friends, was outshined by teammate Gabe Rogers, who scored 20 points on seven-for-13 shooting, and at one point made three consecutive three-point shots in the second half.
Jones scored 10.
USC has alternated two wins and two losses all season.
The Trojans will have a week before they take their two-game winning streak to unbeaten, No. 4-ranked Kansas, which is in the midst of a 64-game home winning streak.
But the good news for the Trojans is that they'll be joined on that trip by newly-eligible junior guard Jio Fontan, a transfer from Fordham, who will be playing in his first game since Nov. 22, 2009 in a loss at Manhattan.
O'Neill often calls Fontan USC's most talented player, and he recently said Fontan is also the team's best leader.
-- Baxter Holmes
Photo: USC forward Nikola Vucevic and Northern Arizona's Stallon Saldivar dive after a loose ball in the first half Saturday afternoon. Credit: Lori Shepler / Associated Press