In the original NBA Jam video game whenever a team made three consecutive shots, the team would be "on fire," the basketball would turn into a shining golden ball of fire when it was in the hands of one of the team's players and almost every shot past half court -- no matter how ridiculous -- would fall through the net until the opposing team scored to break the "fire."
On Monday night in Maui, Illinois might as well have been shooting with a golden basketball and there was nothing USC could do to break the fire.
The Illini dominated USC 94-64 behind an impressive display of shooting in the first half that saw the Illini make 69 percent of their field goals, including their final 11 shots for a 57-26 halftime lead.
USC trimmed the lead down to 18 in the second half, but it was too little, too late as Brandon Paul nailed his fifth of six 3-pointers to start a 15-2 run that iced the game.
-- BREAKING IT DOWN --
Key moment: With the score 9-8, both teams were playing fast uptempo basketball. Apparently, it was too fast for USC's two lead guards, Jio Fontan and JT Terrell. Over the next 7 1/2 minutes, the two combined to make a free throw and a jumper. They also combined to miss five field goals, a free throw and turn the ball over four times.
Add in two more team turnovers and Illinois was able to go on a 21-3 run. The Illini never looked back, pushing the first half lead to as many as 34 before halftime.
Player of the game: Brandon Paul. Normally, I try to select the top Trojan, but Paul's performance was too much to overlook. Paul finished with a season-high 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting. He knocked down six of his nine 3-pointers, grabbed six boards and had two steals.
Unsung Hero: Eric Wise. Quietly, EWise continues to be the most consistent performer for USC. He finished with a team-high 13 points on an efficient 5-of-7 shooting before leaving the game after he rolled his left ankle.
Wise made his first three-point attempt of the season, but as was the case with the whole Trojan team, he finished below his previous rebounding average with only four boards after averaging 7.5 in the first two games.
"Step It Up:" Brendyn Taylor. Call me mean for picking on the one guy that played the least in a 30-point blowout, but there are so many options here (Terrell's terrible shot selection, Fontan and Byron Wesley's turnovers, the post players pick-and-roll defense and lack of blocking out, Ari Stewart's zero impact) that I'm going with Taylor's egregious error.
Having played less than a minute in your college career, when you get an opportunity to get in the game -- granted your team was down 22 -- before the game is completely decided, you can't make a bonehead mistake two seconds in.
After checking in, Taylor was immediately whistled for fouling DJ Richardson on a three-point shot in the right corner. What were you thinking Brendyn? Never foul a jump shooter, especially on a three in the corner two seconds after you just checked in. Taylor lasted only 58 seconds this game as he was in the game when USC gave up three offensive rebounds on one possession, prompting O'Neill to swap in three subs.
Key stat: 42-20. USC has one of the biggest frontlines in the country, and yet, the Trojans were out rebounded by 22! Illinois even had a 15-5 offensive rebound advantage. The trio of 7-footers (Dedmon, Blasczyk, Oraby) combined for four rebounds in 37 minutes. Only two players collected more than two boards and no one had more than Aaron Fuller's five.
Sideline Strategy: Monday night was definitely an interesting night of strategy by O'Neill. The Trojans actually tried to employ a 2-3 zone, unsuccessfully. O'Neill tried a big lineup with both Dedmon and Oraby together and a twin point guard lineup, allowing Fontan to shift to the shooting guard. He only played Oraby five minutes in the first half (no word if there was some injury that kept him from playing in the second half). O'Neill also tried several different lineup combinations, including a "Grinder" lineup that consisted of Chass Bryan, Byron Wesley, Renaldo Woolridge, Aaron Fuller and Blasczyk.
USC struggled all game with the pick-and-roll, especially Illinois' ability to pick-and-pop. At the beginning of the game, the Trojans tried to go under all the screens, which helped lead to the Illini catching fire from the outside. Then they tried to switch on the screens, which led to mismatches down low though both Fontan and Bryan fought hard to front the post and deny the post-entry passes. If Oraby wasn't injured, this decision may have been why he didn't play.
Where They Stand: Sometimes a team is just out of its mind and there is nothing you can do to stop it. USC ran into that firing squad on Monday. Because Chaminade upset Texas earlier in the evening, the Trojans will match up with the Longhorns in the consolation round at 2 p.m. PT. USC beat then No. 19 Texas 73-56 the last time the two teams faced off, when they played at the Galen Center during the 2010-11 season.
Illinois is a solid squad that looks like it will have a strong season. Losing by 30 is never good, but this is a loss that will potentially be overlooked on USC's resume if the team comes together and plays to its potential.