Trojans best Beavers and zone at last

In what was effectively a must-win game to avoid the play-in round for the Pac-10 Tournament, the USC men’s basketball team answered the bell, downing Oregon State 67-56.

Inside presence · Junior forward Nikola Vucevic finished with his 12th double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds at home against Oregon State on Thursday. - Carlo Acenas | Daily Trojan

After jumping out to an 11-6 lead in the first half, Oregon State’s (9-14, 4-8) offense sputtered, failing to score for seven minutes until senior guard Lathen Wallace made two free throws after junior guard Jio Fontan fouled him.

In USC’s game against Oregon State last month, even a prolific 49-point second half was not enough to overcome a 10-point deficit at halftime. Thursday night, however, the Trojans did not allow a slow start to snowball and lead to an insurmountable first-half deficit.

All told, USC (13-11, 5-6) scored 16 points off 11 Oregon State turnovers in the first half, and headed to the locker room at halftime with a 14-point cushion, 37-23.

Early in the second half, Oregon State rattled off an 11-1 run before senior guard Donte Smith finally found his shooting stroke. In jeopardy of squandering a once imposing lead, the invaluable sixth man did not hesitate in drilling consecutive three-pointers, despite only having shot 1-8 up until that point. The Trojans proceeded to cruise until the final whistle blew.

Throughout the game, Oregon State’s offense struggled to adjust to a USC defensive scheme which stressed sagging within the three-point line and forcing the Beavers to make perimeter shots.

USC’s defense admirably contained Oregon State’s most dangerous scoring threat, sophomore guard Jared Cunningham, to 11 points on a miserable 1-6 shooting effort.

Lacking confidence in their poor shooting game, the Beavers often tried to penetrate the paint only to collide with the Trojans’ two immovable behemoths, junior forward Nikola Vucevic and senior forward Alex Stepheson.

Next on the docket for the Trojans in their quest to escape the bottom tier of the Pac-10 is a 7:30 p.m. game against Oregon at the Galen Center tomorrow.