USC used a 18-rebound advantage to defeat UC Irvine, 62-49, in the Trojans’ regular season opener on Saturday.
“The first win is always the hardest one,” junior forward Nikola Vucevic said. “We have to adjust to each other because this is a new team, but I think we did a pretty good job, even though we had some bad plays.”
After the game was tied at 11 midway through the first half, freshman guard Bryce Jones scored seven consecutive points to give USC (1-0) an 18-11 advantage. The scoring streak gave Jones a total of 12 points, meaning that he had single-handedly outscored the Anteaters (0-2) more than 12 minutes into the game. Jones finished his first official collegiate game with 14 points.
In the second half, the Anteaters came within six points of the lead with as late as 7:07 left in the game, but the Trojans then went on a 7-0 run to put the game out of reach. Vucevic was key to USC’s second-half play, scoring 17 of his 19 points in the second half for the Trojans.
The Anteaters could not match up with the height of the Trojans. USC had 44 rebounds compared to 26 for UC Irvine, including 11 more offensive rebounds than the Anteaters. Vucevic led the Trojans with 14 rebounds, while senior forward Alex Stepheson grabbed 13 rebounds and Jones added eight.
Forward Pavol Losonsky paced UC Irvine with 13 points and eight rebounds. Forward Eric Wise added 12 points and five rebounds.
Despite the win, depth proved to be an issue for the Trojans. With sophomore forward Evan Smith sidelined because of a shoulder injury, USC coach Kevin O’Neill only played six players more than 30 minutes. Freshman guard Maurice Jones, Stepheson and Vucevic each played 37 or more minutes.
“We obviously do not have a lot of depth right now,” O’Neill said. “It is imperative that our guys stay out of foul trouble and give themselves a chance to play the whole game.”
Maurice Jones played all 40 minutes in his first official collegiate game. Despite feeling “a little bit” tired after the game, he played well, accumulating 13 points and four assists.
“I felt pretty comfortable after going up and down [the court] a few times,” Maurice Jones said. “[Coach] wants me to make some plays so that we can get some easy buckets and not always have to run a set [play].”
The Trojans host Santa Clara tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Galen Center. The Broncos (1-0) are led by guard Kevin Foster, who as a freshman in 2008-2009 averaged 14.7 points per game and was named the West Coast Conference Co-Newcomer of the Year as well as a Freshman All-American. He redshirted last season after suffering a foot injury early in the year, but is healthy now. Foster scored a team-high 19 points in the Broncos’ first game this season, an 82-77 victory over Cal State Bakersfield.