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November 13, 2012Not bad. Not bad at all.
Beating Long Beach State means something. They're well-coached, they'll defend you and they're used to the big-time with a schedule that has them playing North Carolina, Ohio State, Syracuse, Arizona and UCLA in the first half of the season.
So USC's 62-44 win was impressive stuff. Maybe not right away. And maybe not even at the 29-23 halftime. But when the Trojans ratcheted up their dozen-deep defense, holding the 49ers to just 21 second-half points on five-of-23 shooting, that looked like a team on the upswing.
And it has Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill looking like a different man. Although transfer Eric Wise, whose double-double 10 points and 12 rebounds led the way for the Trojans here says it isn't so.
"He just has a better team," Wise said with a grin after watching during his sitout season after coming over from UCI when the Trojans were lucky to have two Division I players on the floor. Now they have 12.
And that's the idea: Wear teams down. Start with three seven-footers, including last-minute entry Omar Oraby from Cairo, Egypt by way of Rice. Mix in a different-looking Dewayne Dedmon, who seemed to mature as the game went on with his eight points and 10 rebounds, and the Trojans have a team that can muscle people and lean on them the second half.
For the 2-0 Trojans heading off now to Maui to play Illinois Monday, it's a whole new feeling.
"We won," Wise said of the first way this now feels different for a Trojans team trying to bounce back from 6-26 last season. "We beat a team that always beats us -- and we played good defense the second half."
Better than good, really. "That's what we want to do," Wise said, "wear 'em out, especially in the second half."
They also had some glimmer of an outside threat in the two former Wake Forest players, J.T. Terrell and Ari Stewart, who combined for four threes, two each, on the way to 10 points apiece. it's something the Trojans simply couldn't do last year -- knock anything down from behind the arc.
But maybe as eye-opening as anything was the play of walk-on backup point guard Chass Bryan, who stepped in when Jio Fontan got into foul trouble both halves and bailed USC out with four points and more importantly, four assists, in 15 minutes.
"Funny how things work out," O'Neill said of how you spend months or years recruiting a player and then a 5-foot-9 walk-on from Oak Park comes in and is as good as any player you could have recruited.
"We have confidence in him because he has confidence in himself," Wise said. Bryan credited much of his confidence to a no-nerves attitude and Fontan's adopting him and bringing him into the fold.
It is a different look this year. get used to it. if the Trojans get to where they can run their offense, or get the break going, they can be pretty formidable. And on this night, hitting 25 of 56 from the field, they weren't bad.
Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFootball.com. You can reach him at email@example.com.