For just the second time in the past 10 years, USC basketball has begun a season with consecutive victories. In what could otherwise be understood as a sign of futility, let's instead regard this as a sign of progression, a sign of better things to come. In other words, let's exercise some optimism, because if Monday night's victory proved anything, it showed that there are certainly some reasons for the casual fan to take interest in 'SC hoops.
And those reasons largely center on the play of freshman point guard Maurice Jones, who had more than a breakout game with 29 points on 10-of-20 shooting, and five assists. As a result, Jones was given a nickname: "MoJo." I think it works.
For reasons beyond my understanding, however, Santa Clara decided to play a mundane man-to-man defense for nearly the entire 40 minutes, which presented Jones with a multitude of one-on-one opportunities. With his speed, quickness and knack for getting to the basket, SCU was helpless. And they really didn't do anything to adjust to Jones' speed. Nothing.
The template for beating USC is simple and reads as follows: play zone defense and force players such as Donte Smith and Marcus Simmons to make 3-pointers. Oregon State perfected it against 'SC a year ago; yet, Santa Clara failed to adjust to their speed, and to the credit of Kevin O'Neill's group, they took advantage of it. A soft man-to-man allowed for players such as Jones to get in the lane, and well, score (a lot). Alejando Madrid of Reign of Troy sums up the eye-popping performance from "MoJo."
In the second half of a close game, Jones took control of the offense and did most of the scoring. On one play, he was falling away on a layup after contact and miraculously netted the ball...Although Jones is only a freshman, he played with tremendous poise and controlled the offense well. During crucial moments, he took charge and scored at will with his shiftyness.
No question that Jones deserves much of the credit for this win, for at times, the team struggled. In the interior, both Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic were pushed around by smaller, inferior SCU players. That can't happen in conference. In the second half, USC, at one point, was out-rebounded 21-25, and struggled to keep the Broncos off the glass.
Granted, Vucevic did finish with 22 points and 11 rebounds, but it wasn't his best effort, settling for too many jump shots and taking himself out of plays. He did have double-digit rebounding totals, but based on SCU's size and ability, there aren't many reasons as to why he shouldn't have finished with 20. It was too much of a finesse game for stretches of time, and that isn't going to cut it against Pac-10 teams. But there's still time; no reason to overreact.
It's early, but 'SC's, nonetheless, undefeated with a Wednesday home matchup with Rider awaiting, and they're getting strong play from the newcomers (i.e. the Joneses - Bryce and Maurice). There isn't much depth, but the team's seven-man rotation is at the very least enough to keep this team on track to at least compete for the Pac-10 crown this winter.
Until something drastic occurs, I'm still operating under that impression.