Win reveals shift in L.A. power

Boy, it was a sight to witness.

On display Sunday night was something reminiscent of what I’d normally see at a football game.

A sea of cardinal and gold jam-packed the entire student section and proceeded to fill the upper decks.

A raucous, standing-room-only Galen Center crowd screamed, shouted and cursed voraciously at the powder blue and gold dispersed throughout the arena.

“It was awesome to see the crowd we had,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said.

Feeding off a frenzied crowd, the Trojans used their home-court advantage to pull away down the stretch.

After it was all said and done, the USC marching band topped it all off with “Tusk,” in tune to the fans reminding everybody that UCLA just isn’t very good.

“[The] win means everything to us,” senior forward Alex Stepheson said.

The victory wasn’t just any win for USC though — this marked the fourth consecutive win over crosstown rival UCLA.

Ever since taking over the coaching job in 2009, O’Neill remains unbeaten against the Bruins.

Besides exerting its seemingly eternal dominance between the gridirons, the school more known for its football program is now flexing its muscles on the hardwood floors.

For years, the collegiate sports teams in Los Angeles were largely recognized for their success.

Travel to USC and peer into Heritage Hall graced with Heisman Trophy winners and National Championships.

If you want to talk about dominance in basketball, take a trip down to Westwood and gaze at the NCAA championship banners hanging from the rafters.

Before, USC basketball couldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as UCLA basketball.

All of that may be changing.

“When you’ve beaten UCLA, you’ve beaten tradition,” O’Neill said following the win Sunday night.

And he’s right.

After all, UCLA’s basketball program has won 11 NCAA national championships, and they’re known for having arguably the greatest coach of all time in John Wooden.

Despite NCAA-mandated sanctions that will haunt the team until 2014, O’Neill has managed to make use of the players he has now and control what is in his hands.

The NCAA might be trying its hardest to derail us from dominating collegiate athletics, but it’s not working when it comes to beating UCLA.

They might have been able to recruit cream of the crop talent in the form of five McDonald All-Americans, guards Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee, center Josh Smith and forwards Travis and David Wear (who transferred from North Carolina earlier this year), but rankings don’t mean everything.

The culture of USC revolves around football, but O’Neill is changing the basketball program and, bringing it to a level where it is more than just an afterthought.

He has managed to lure guys to come play and start a winning tradition of their own. Freshman guard Maurice Jones was an unheralded prospect out of Michigan, and only recruited by a handful of smaller Division-I schools back East.

But as the floor general for a team in need of a true point guard after Mike Gerrity left, his leadership cannot be taken for granted.

Freshman guard Bryce Jones was a highly touted prospect out of local Woodland Hills Taft High and ESPN evaluators say he has the potential to be one of the best wing-type players on the West Coast.

His contributions might not have shown up in the box score, but his strong play off the bench sparked the Trojans when they needed it most.

O’Neill was even able to lure junior Jio Fontan, whose contributions cannot be overstated, from Fordham.

With him, the Trojans stand at 4-2 and without him, O’Neill believes it could easily be the other way around.

“He leads us, and he really cares about winning,” O’Neill said. “If we did not have Jio these last six games, we would be 2-4 or 1-5.”

But they’re not, and more importantly, USC is showing everybody in Los Angeles they are more than just a football school.

Currently, the Trojans are consistently beating their rivals in basketball, almost as if it were tradition.

It might have been just a rivalry game in the eyes of many, but the win and the recent success signifies a power shift.

Get used to it — the Trojans might very well be at the top of the basketball hierarchy now.

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