USC's 60-49 win over St. Mary's in the semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic showcased all of the positives regarding the current Trojan hoops team: tough defense and balanced scoring.
‘SC, which recorded its fifth straight victory, will play either UNLV or host Hawaii in the championship game of the inaugural tournament on Christmas Day and hopes to use its success over these past few games as a springboard into conference play which begins December 31st against Arizona.
However, Wednesday's victory over the Gaels was not a breeze by any stretch. In fact, it appeared as if the Trojans were in serious danger early on. Once again, they fell behind early in the contest after struggling to find a rhythm offensively thanks to turnovers and poor shot selection, but came on strong mid-way through the first half. A Marcus Johnson field goal around the eleven minute marked sparked a 19-5 run, which enabled the Trojans to take a ten point lead going into halftime where they never looked back.
Once again, the team's stellar defense enabled them to defeat a tough opponent known for its potent offense. St. Mary's, which typically scores about 84 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field, was held far below its season averages, as the Gaels scored just 49 points on 30% shooting. Their inability to become comfortable on the offensive end made it extremely tough on Randy Bennett's bunch to mount any sort of a comeback.
What made things even more difficult for the Gaels was the fact that the Trojans were effective on the offensive end for the majority of the game as well. Over the course of the 40 minute contest, the Trojans collectively shot 52% percent from the field, which enabled them to maintain a comfortable lead until the closing minutes.
But while the high shooting percentage will certainly afford this team success, the fact that so many different players contributed on the offensive end is yet another positive sign for this bunch. Mike Gerrity, Nikola Vucevic, and Leonard Washington (who was playing in his first game after being academically ineligible for the first semester) all scored in double figures with 17, 15, and 10 points respectively. That balanced attack will surely be needed if the Trojans intend on taking him the tournament title and collecting their sixth straight victory on Friday.