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USC Basketball: O'Neill wants Stepheson to adjust to crowding defenses

December 30, 2009 |  8:53 am

Alex Before leaving for Hawaii and the Diamond Head Classic tournament, USC junior forward Alex Stepheson was on fire.

He was averaging a double-double --13.4 points, 10.6 rebounds -- and was coming off a 19-point, 15-rebound game against No. 9 Tennessee.

But in Hawaii, Stepheson had a total of 10 points and 13 rebounds in three games.

"They were just packing it in on me," Stepheson said. "Some teams were doing zone. Other teams that weren't doing zone were double-teaming the post, sometimes triple-teaming."

Stepheson, a transfer from North Carolina who is now averaging 10.4 points and 8.7 rebounds, said the new tactic surprised him.  

"It kind of caught me off guard," he said. "I didn't really expect them to come out and really sit in on the post like they were."

But with Stepheson, forward Nikola Vucevic (13 points, 9.8 rebounds) and forward Leonard Washington (9.8 points, six rebounds) all contributing, it's likely teams will play more zone defenses to slow USC's potent inside game.

Because of that, USC Coach Kevin O'Neill said Stepheson needs to adjust.

"People really concentrate on not letting Alex get the ball, and they really swarm him when he does get it," O'Neill said. "It's a matter of him getting a feel for playing in crowds a little bit and getting used to being a No. 1 inside option where people really try to take him out of the game."

-- Baxter Holmes

Photo: USC's Alex Stepheson, right, battles Sacramento State's Justin Eller for the ball during a game on Dec. 8. Credit: Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times