As the second half of Pac-10 conference play begins, the USC men’s basketball team will look to get off on the right foot after dropping two road games in Oregon last weekend.
The Trojans’ (12-9, 4-5) first opportunity to turn things around will come Thursday night, as they host the first place California Golden Bears (14-7, 6-3) to start a new round of Pac-10 opponents. USC sits two games back from Cal in the conference standings in a five-way tie for fifth place, while the Bears are tied for first with Arizona.
“I’d like to see a little more consistent defensive effort, especially on the road,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. When you have four or five minute defensive letdowns, it’s hard for us to win. It’s going to be important for us that we just keep playing hard, and we’ll get our share of wins if we do that.”
Unfortunately for the Trojans, these four or five minute defensive letdowns have been common lately, as they have given up three second-half leads of seven or more points in their last six games, including a 15-point advantage in a loss to Washington State.
Redshirt senior guard Mike Gerrity said it seems to be more of an issue of consistency rather than talent that has recently plagued the Trojans’ defense, which currently ranks second in the nation in points per game allowed.
“[Our defensive success in practice] has got to carry over into games,” Gerrity said. “When we had our winning streak, we were playing close to 40 minutes of great defense a game. We’ve got to get back to that level.”
USC’s defense looks to be tested against Cal’s guard duo of Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher, who average 18.9 and 16.4 points per game, respectively. The two seniors put up 46 combined points in a recent win against Arizona State and then another 30 three days later in a loss to Arizona.
“[Randle’s] a great player,” O’Neill said. “He’s had a wonderful career [at Cal], and he’s the reason why they’re tied for first right now.”
USC has lost five of its last seven games, but, despite the recent disappointments, O’Neill maintains that the team will continue to look forward to its remaining games, rather than dwell on the past.
“We need to win as many as we can and see what else happens around the league and go from there,” O’Neill said. “It’s one game at a time for us. I’ve never been one of those make or break guys.”