Trojans could use an energy booster

Being tired sucks.

Your outlook on everything changes. Your productivity, your efficiency, your excitement — they all go down. All you want to do is finish your day and get to sleep.

But sometimes you can’t.

Sometimes you’ve got class from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., work until midnight and a few hours of homework to do before you repeat it all again the next day.

That’s what the USC men’s basketball team is feeling like right about now.

And quite frankly, it was apparent in the Trojans’ play Saturday — not that it was their fault. The team has fought valiantly all season long and truly never given up. Something that should be commended, especially given the circumstances.

But, man, are they tired.

Eight players playing 27 close games over the course of three months will do that.

It’s easy to forget the Trojans compete with at least a man or two less than their opponents nearly every game. The typical rotation in college basketball features maybe 10 or 11 guys playing each night; USC hasn’t used more than eight in one game since Dec. 5.

Part of that is because the Trojans’ top eight is clearly separated from the rest of the players by talent and experience. But part of it is also because their games have been so tight that there hasn’t been any garbage time.

The only reason USC coach Kevin O’Neill got to empty out his bench a little bit in December was because the Trojans were getting blown out by Georgia Tech. But USC has only lost by more than 10 points on two occasions this season — and it’s not like its blowing out teams either.

The Trojans haven’t won by more than five points since more than a month ago in Washington.

And that’s not to mention the fact that the team has no real motivation. Since the university’s self-imposed sanctions on the basketball program, banning the team from any sort of postseason play this season, the team has known its season would end on March 6 — definitively.

Add it all up, and you’ve got one tired group of teenagers and 20-somethings.

And they finally admitted it this weekend.

“We did feel a little tired,” sophomore forward Nikola Vucevic said after Saturday’s demoralizing 49-44 loss to Oregon State. “And we don’t have a lot of rotation, so the time accumulates and we get worn out and we can’t keep up the same intensity for 40 minutes.”

But at the same time, Vucevic hesitated to blame the loss on a collective lethargy.

“That is a factor, but it’s not an excuse,” Vucevic said. “Because every team plays the same amount of games, so everybody’s tired.”

O’Neill, in his first year at USC, has said all along that his roster was lacking in depth.

After his team blew chances to win Feb. 20 against Washington State and Thursday against Oregon, he said the team was starting to “wear down.”

“It showed in the Washington State game and again tonight,” O’Neill said Thursday.

But Saturday, his viewpoint had changed after a fundamentally unsound performance from his team. USC couldn’t buy a bucket in the second half, and Oregon State’s respected 1-3-1 half-court trap mystified the Trojan backcourt.

Asked if he still thought the Trojans looked tired afterward, he sounded even more frustrated.

“I can’t even tell anymore,” he said. “Tired’s not an excuse for 20 turnovers. Tired’s not an excuse for shooting 29 percent. It’s who we are, and it’s unfortunate for our fans and unfortunate for everybody.”

You know what? That excuse might actually fly, Mr. O’Neill. Ask any student who’s been through one of those 9 a.m.-4 p.m., 4 p.m.-midnight, midnight-who-knows-when-type of days, and you’ll get more than a little sympathy.

As I said, being tired sucks. It’s not fun in the least. And tired people consistently make mistakes, whether it’s in the classroom, workplace or on the basketball court.

So get some sleep, will you?

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