USC drops Pac-10 opener to Washington

While most USC students have been relaxing and enjoying winter recess, the men’s basketball team has been playing through arguably the toughest part of their schedule.

The Trojans’ Pac-10 opener against preseason conference favorite Washington was the fifth time in the last six games that the Trojans (8-6, 0-1) have played against a team that competed in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. Looking like they needed a break of their own, USC cooled off after a hot start, and fell to the Huskies (9-3, 1-0) in overtime, 73-67.

After Washington opened the overtime with a 9-3 run, junior guard Jio Fontan hit a 3-pointer to cut the Huskies’ lead to three. Washington, however, was able to get to the free-throw line down the stretch, making 13 of 17 free throws in overtime, while the Trojans only converted on two of five free throws.

USC also struggled to keep Washington off the boards, allowing 14 offensive rebounds in the game, and were outrebounded 44-28.

“We victimized ourselves tonight by not getting big-time defensive rebounds,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “You cannot win not doing the little things down the stretch.”

The Trojans quickly silenced the large contingent of Husky fans in attendance after tip-off, going on an 8-0 run early in the game, and leading by as many as 12 points. However, USC struggled from behind the arc, making only one of ten three-point attempts in the first half, and trailed by two points at halftime, 28-26. Washington’s 28 points was their lowest halftime score this season.

Junior forward Nikola Vucevic carried the Trojans in the second half, when he scored 18 of his career-high 28 points, including USC’s last seven points of regulation. Vucevic also grabbed 14 rebounds, and made all 14 of his free-throw attempts.

“We wasted an incredible performance by Nik,” O’Neill said.

Fontan scored 14 points for USC, but only made four of 14 shot attempts. No other Trojan scored more than eight points.

Senior guard Marcus Simmons, who is 6’6”, guarded 5’9” Washington guard Isaiah Thomas for much of the game, and held Thomas, who came into the game averaging a team-high 15.8 points per game to 10 points. Thomas also committed a game-high six turnovers. USC held Washington to 55 points in regulation, the Huskies’ lowest scoring output of the season.

Four Trojans played 40 or more minutes, and only six USC players played more than five minutes. The Trojans’ bench only made two of 10 shot attempts, and was outscored by Washington’s bench 29-7.

The Trojans have a quick turnaround, hosting Washington State on Friday at 3:00 p.m. The Cougars (10-3, 0-1) are led by Klay Thompson, the Pac-10’s leading scorer, who came into Wednesday averaging 22.3 points per game. Washington State fell to UCLA on Wednesday night, 80-71, in their Pac-10 opener.

“We need to come tomorrow to practice, refocus, and move on,” Vucevic said