Historically, these are the type of games where victory eludes USC. Coming off a marquee win, playing an inferior opponent, and trailing by nine points at halftime, would usually indicate that the Trojans would be on a collision course with defeat. But something was different on Tuesday afternoon in Hawaii, as ‘SC, instead of folding up like a lawn chair, scored 37 second half points to come from behind and defeat a surprisingly tough Western Michigan team by a score of 55-51.
Once again, the Trojans were led by Mike Gerrity, who largely orchestrated the team's second half comeback by scoring fifteen of his team-leading 17 points over the final 20 minutes. Coming off a double-double against Tennessee (12 points and 10 assists), Gerrity may not have been as impressive on the stat sheet (he had just 3 assists), but his leadership and clutch scoring were instrumental in the Trojans' win. As a senior, that poise and confidence enabled him to make such a strong impact considering that most of USC's starters and key reserves are playing significant minutes for the first time in their careers.
Yet while Tuesday's win and Gerrity's strong performance are certainly enough to appease the fanbase for now, there are still other concerns that must be addressed before anybody starts throwing the words postseason tournament and USC in the same sentence. For one, the play from starting big men Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic proved to be incredibly disappointing. Despite big games last Saturday, Stepheson was even named Pac-10 player of the week, both players struggled mightily against the Broncos - a team not especially known for its defensive prowess. Stepheson had just 2 points on 1-of-6 shooting and collected merely 6 rebounds and no blocks. This was all in 29 minutes of action. Vucevic wasn't too much better, as the sophomore had just one field goal, missing several "gimme" baskets. Luckily, he did get to shoot eleven free throws, enabling him to score ten points in addition to his eight rebounds.
Therefore, both players must step up tomorrow, as the Trojans face a much tougher opponents in St. Mary's that presently holds a 10-1 record with a win already over the Pac-10's Oregon Ducks. The Gaels, who are led by a talented 6'11" center in Omar Samhan, suffered their only defeat at the hands of Vanderbilt by two points so there is no question that ‘SC will be facing a quality basketball team in the next round. If players such as Stepheson, Vucevic, and Dwight Lewis (who had an awful shooting performance) continue to struggle, even Mike Gerrity, who has affectionately become known as the "Baby Nash" by Trojan fans, won't be able to carry the team to a victory.