December, Galen Center; it's apparently a rather unwelcoming sight for opposing teams. A year ago, No. 8 Tennessee traveled to Los Angeles, where they suffered a 22-point defeat at the hands of the Kevin O'Neill-coached Trojans, who at the time, were just 4-4 heading into the matchup.
Sunday evening, the 2010-2011 version, which also had a 4-4 mark before tipoff, was coming off a two-game road skid and four losses in its last six games, which begged the question whether the Trojans could contend at all in an improved Pac-10 conference.
But in similar fashion, the unranked Trojans upended No. 19 Texas by a final score of 73-56, removing doubt that USC, when rested, is capable of competing with the nation's best.
Granted, Texas wasn't at its best. In the interior, it was soft, and oddly enough, Rick Barnes decided to employ a man-to-man defense despite USC's obvious difficulties in handling a zone . The end result wasn't pretty: the Longhorns were routed.
And credit 'SC's interior. Nikola Vucevic recorded a career-high 24 points, while his counterpart Alex Stepheson finished with 14 and 11. Additionally, starting forward Marcus Simmons was equally as impressive on the defensive end, slowing down Texas' top scorer in Jordan Hamilton, who finished with just 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting.
As currently constructed, this current USC team isn't especially fantastic. They don't have a future NBA lottery pick in their starting unit and the roster isn't scattered with a plethora of McDonald's All-Americans. In fact, just seven players even stepped on the court Sunday night.
But they do several things well. They control the glass (out-rebounded Texas 33-27), limit the opposition's field goal percentage (Longhorns shot just 32.1% from the field) and take high-percentage shots, largely when facing a man-to-man defense.
Oddly enough, Texas stayed in man over the course of 40 minutes, and USC capitalized. Maurice Jones was able to get to the basket and create opportunities off dribble penetration. And the flow was kept at a normal pace.
All in all, it was a good win for USC; the type of victory that can give a young team confidence and jump-start a strong finish in non-conference play before the Pac-10 season begins in late December.
Enjoy this one.