USC Beats St. Mary’s 60-49: Something Special Brewing for the Trojans?


Don’t look now, but some strange things are going on in Trojanland.

USC, picked to finish at or near the bottom of the PAC-10, have found new life under first-year head coach Kevin O’Neill and an influx of new players.

The Trojans, who saw former head coach Tim Floyd resign under a cloud of NCAA suspicions that he violated a myriad of rules, also lost the bulk of their starting five from last year with Demar DeRozan and Taj Gibson both landing in the NBA.

As such, expectations for the Trojans were understandably low for the upcoming season. In Los Angeles, laser-like focus remained on the UCLA Bruins, just like in so many past college basketball seasons.

College basketball experts took a look at the Trojans and stifled a collective yawn, with nary a positive thing to say.

So much for the experts and their opinions.

Though it is very early in the season, the Trojans are making noise.

And lots of it.

With yesterday’s 60-49 win over St. Mary’s, a team that was expected to challenge Gonzaga in the WCC and who came in with a sterling 10-1 record, the Trojans have served notice that they don’t intend on being any one’s patsy this year.

The win marked the third straight since the arrival of point guard Mike Gerrity who led the Trojans with 17 points.

Previously, in his first start for the Trojans after being cleared to play by the NCAA, Gerrity led the Trojans to a rout over then No. 9 Tennessee at the Galen center.

While the play of Gerrity has been a huge lift for the Trojans, he is by no means the only transfer that has made an impact for USC.

Alex Stepheson, a local player who went to play for North Carolina, sat out last year and was finally cleared to play this year for the Trojans.

Stepheson’s return has reminded everyone why he was such a hot commodity coming out of high school, averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Meanwhile, forward Nikola Vucevic continued his strong play both inside and out.

Vusevic scored 15 points and led the Trojans with seven boards against St. Mary’s.

Although USC’s only returning starter from last year, Dwight Lewis, has been inconsistent, he has the talent to go for 25 points on any given night.

The other returning starter, Marcus Johnson, who was granted another year of eligibility after transferring from Connecticut, is a fabulous athlete and a lock down defender.

But that’s not all for the upstart Trojans.

Leonard Washington, a versatile forward who has had trouble staying on the court due to injuries and academic issues, returned yesterday and had 10 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes against the Gaels.

All of this portends very good things for the Trojans, who have made those same experts that discounted them at the start of the season sit up and take notice now at their resurgence.

And much of the credit must go to first-year coach Kevin O’Neill.

O’Neill, who walked into a minefield when he took over for Tim Floyd, was not a popular hire.

Given the circumstances surrounding the departure of Floyd and the loss of so much talent, the thought around southern California was that O’Neill simply took a job that no one else wanted.

That may be true, but there is no doubt that O’Neill has already left his imprint on the Trojans. They have responded to his coaching with a stifling defense, and just enough offense to make the future look very bright for the rest of the year.

In fact, a college basketball expert at ESPN has recently projected the lowly Trojans, so disparaged at the beginning of the year, to finish fourth in the PAC-10 and make the NCAA tournament.

Tomorrow, the Trojans take on Nevada Las Vegas for the Hawaii Rainbow Classic title and, if successful, will continue their resurgence.

Either way, USC has already exceeded most expectations for this year.

Something special brewing in Trojanland?