USC basketball makes it interesting but beats Vermont, 64-56

USC basketball makes it interesting but beats Vermont, 64-56
USC's Nikola Jovanovic, right, recovers a loose ball after stealing it from Vermont's Kurt Steidl during the first half of the Trojans' 64-56 win at Galen Center on Tuesday. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

USC's basketball team for the first time played the Vermont Catamounts on Tuesday night, Vermont's nickname referring to the family of large wild cats such as the cougar.

The Catamounts were hardly ferocious, though, scoring a paltry three points in the first six minutes of play and often putting up marginal resistance to the Trojans.


USC had problems of its own but still defeated Vermont, 64-56, to finish its non-conference schedule at 8-4. The Trojans open their Pac-12 Conference season Friday at Utah.

"We certainly make it interesting," USC Coach Andy Enfield said. "Offensively, we really need to play better going into the Pac-12" games.

Strahinja Gavrilovic led USC in scoring with 15 points, while Nikola Jovanovic added 12 and Katin Reinhardt scored 11 points.

USC has won six of its last seven games.

In the first half, the Catamounts committed more turnovers, nine, than they scored baskets, with Vermont shooting eight of 30 from the floor, or 26.7%. USC shot 15 of 33 (45.5%) and took a 43-26 halftime lead.

But the Trojans weren't exactly an offensive machine.

They scored only 11 points in the first six minutes of the game and scored only three points in the first four minutes of the second half. That prompted, well, catcalls from some frustrated USC fans.

And after leading late in the first half by as many as 19 points, USC saw its lead slashed to four points, 60-56, with 2:11 left in the game after Vermont's Hector Harold made a layup.

But USC's Jovanovic answered with a layup of his own to help secure the win.

"We're a work in progress," Enfield said. "If we play like we did in the first half we can compete with anyone on our schedule, if we play like we did in the second it's going to be a long season."

The game was a homecoming of sorts for Harold, a Pasadena native and former Pepperdine player who is Vermont's leading scorer. But the senior forward, who had missed the prior three games with a foot injury, struggled in the game.

Harold missed all five of his field-goal attempts in the first half and was one for 10 on the night, finishing with four points.

Entering the game, the Trojans could point to several statistics besides their winning record for a successful non-conference season.

USC topped its opponents in average scoring per game (68.5 points to 67 points), field-goal percentage (42.6% to 39.8%), three-point baskets (32.4% to 30%) and average rebounds (39 to 36.5).

But the numbers also showed where the Trojans need work. USC committed an average 13.9 turnovers per game, compared with 13.4 for its rivals, and USC had 15 turnovers against Vermont.