Rapid Reaction: USC 69, Oregon State 68

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January 20, 2013 by Marshall Kelner

Since my posts are normally so long, I’m going to keep it short tonight and just throw out five quick takes (quick for me, that is) I had from USC’s nail biting 69-68 victory over the Oregon State Beavers at Galen Center:

1. The most important thing was that despite how ugly it was at times for USC in the second half, they made enough plays down the stretch to find a way to win. 20 turnovers won’t get it done next week on the road, but the Trojans kept grinding and most importantly got a huge defensive stop to close out the game.

2. Speaking of turnovers, PG Jio Fontan had 10 of them! I know he’s coming off the ACL, but that number is completely unacceptable and frankly, quite mind boggling. This is a guy who was known for making the right basketball plays (Pac-12 Networks color commentator Ernie Kent’s favorite phrase) and leading the offense, while at times providing a scoring punch as well. He clearly isn’t the same player he was pre-ACL, at least not yet. He really struggled against the 1-3-1 pressure that the Beavers applied in the second half and looked confused. Too much dribbling, not quick enough passing. On the positive side, he took just two shots and made them both. With the talent USC has, they don’t need Jio to score, especially the way he’s been shooting all season. However, his overall play must improve dramatically if USC wants to compete with the big boys in the conference.

3. Byron Wesley showed what he can do when he is aggressive, putting up 19 points on 7-13 shooting, including 5-6 from the line. He didn’t settle for the outside shot and really looked to get to the rim. That’s what he does best and he has the strength and athleticism to finish. The combination of J.T. Terrell‘s outside shooting and Wesley’s slashing has the potential to be very dangerous going forward.

4. Roberto Nelson was the best player on the floor for either team (26 points, 10-10 from the foul line). He’s an example of a guy USC (and UCLA for that matter) can’t let get away in the future when the new coach is hired. I understand LA is littered with basketball talent and you’re not going to keep everyone at home, but here is a guy from Santa Barbara with a ton of skill and he somehow ends up in Corvalis, Oregon. He is averaging 15.5 points per game in his junior season and shooting over 45 percent from three point range. Very confident and smooth shooter, and can clearly get to the line as well. Great find by Craig Robinson.

5. The next three games, the final three in the first half of conference play, will show where USC is truly at right now. The stretch starts with a road contest in Tempe, a game USC needs to have. ASU started out the conference season well, but there’s not much talent there this season, especially with Trent Lockett transferring after last year. ASU plays lots of zone and the Trojans really struggled against the 1-3-1 tonight, so look for that to be a focus this week in practice for Interim Head Coach Bob Cantu. Then, it’s a meeting with the top-10 Arizona Wildcats. That will be a great test in a hostile atmosphere. If USC can keep it close and have a chance at the end, we’ll know they will be tough the rest of the way. If not, then we will still have more questions than answers. The final game in the stretch is on the road at Pauley against the Bruins. Although UCLA is red hot right now record wise, they haven’t been blowing out teams (three point win at bottom feeder Utah is a case in point) and are still figuring out how to put their talented pieces together. Another great test for USC. Of course, we will break down all three games in depth on this blog next week.

And one bonus take: I will be writing extensively about this in the coming weeks, but my top three, somewhat realistic, candidates right now for the head coaching job are: Shaka Smart, Buzz Williams, and Jamie Dixon. I’ll explain more soon, but the bottom line is that Pat Haden must aim high. What will it take to get one of these guys? Lots of money AND a hell of a sell job. But it can be done and USC is an attractive job for many reasons. We’ll see if Haden is up to the task. No question, it’s the biggest hire in the history of the program.

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