Now, that's a great way to start the tournament.
The Trojans' emphatic 14-point win over No. 5 seeded California Thursday afternoon at Staples Center wasn't the perfect display of basketball: they started out the game 1-for-11 from the field and All-Pac-10 first team honoree Nikola Vucevic finished with seven points on 30 percent shooting. Neither was a particularly comforting sign, honestly.
But they won and won comfortably - by double-figures for that matter.
There is no doubt that USC is playing some of its best basketball come tournament time, much like 2009 under Tim Floyd.
They're surging, winners in six of their last seven games and appear to be playing better in each contest (Washington State game aside).
What has changed? It's simple: there's offensive output outside of Vucevic - which was sorely needed Thursday considering his very own dropoff in production.
But in most respects, it's easy to understand why. The season hit its lowpoint, from my perspective, on Feb. 12, a home contest against Oregon, which finished ninth in the Pac-10 this year, where the Trojans lost 61-51. In that matchup, Vucevic led all scores with 22 points, in addition to 15 rebounds. The next closest was nine - totals that both Donte Smith and Maurice Jones finished with. And collectively, they shot 15 percent from three-point range.
On multiple occasions this season USC coach Kevin O'Neill has mentioned his team's inability "to make shots." You can fault schematics, but a large part of basketball is simple and comes down to making open, uncontested jumpers. For much of Thursday, they made shots.
Donte made four three-pointers, finishing with a total of 14 points; Maurice Jones finished with 14 points.Heck, even Marcus Simmons, Mr. Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, made a three-pointer
"I don't even remember the last time I made a three," Simmonds told the media following the game. "It felt great!"
That type of production was needed and will be needed, as the Trojans continue to advance in the Pac-10 tournament. They're going to need to score (obviously). It can't be a one-man show, particularly when that one man finishes with just five points.
Up next for USC is a semifinal matchup tomorrow with either No. 1 seeded Arizona or No. 7 seeded Oregon State tomorrow at 6 p.m. at Staples Center. An at-large berth likely hinges on that very match. A "W" would give USC 20 wins on the season and a far greater chance at going to the Dance. It'd also put them in the title game - one win shy of an automatic bid.
Otherwise, a loss might put 'SC in the NIT.