For about a month USC wasn’t half bad. The Trojans figured out the defensive end of things quickly but played as if their eyes were closed once they brought the ball into the frontcourt.
Players stood around listlessly, passes flew out of bounds as often as they did into teammates’ hands and shots usually consisted of the contested, chucked-up-from-the-perimeter variety.
Now No. 25 USC is beginning to show some continuity on offense, the latest example unfolding Saturday night at the Galen Center during a 78-55 victory over Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
For a second consecutive game, the Trojans made the kind of smart passes that result in easy baskets. There was junior forward Keith Wilkinson early in the second half, finding Taj Gibson cutting toward the basket for a dunk and a foul.
A few possessions later, there was freshman guard O.J. Mayo, whipping an over-the-shoulder pass to Davon Jefferson for a fastbreak dunk that gave USC a 21-point lead.
“We had to get better on the offensive side of the court, and that’s what’s occurring right now,” said Trojans Coach Tim Floyd, whose team has 42 assists and only 22 turnovers in its last two games.
Not that USC (8-3) didn’t turn in its usual smothering effort on defense. The Trojans have held eight consecutive opponents to 62 points or fewer, matching a feat accomplished in the 1950-51 season.
Mayo attributed the Trojans’ defensive aptitude to spending “about 85% to 90% of our practices on defense.”
“I guess you could see we kind of import that into the game and pay a lot of attention to the defensive end,” Mayo said.
Cal Poly (5-6) took an early five-point lead after senior forward Matt Hanson made a pair of three-point shots, but the three-pointer would become a big part of the Mustangs’ undoing. Cal Poly attempted 30 of its 60 shots from behind the three-point arc and made only six.
USC was more efficient on offense, with Mayo turning in another strong all-around performance. He made six of 10 shots for 18 points to go with a season-high six assists and is shooting 68.8% over his last two games.
“I just tried to score in rhythm with the offense and just continue to grow as a ballplayer,” said Mayo, who wore a protective sleeve on his left elbow after sleeping on it awkwardly a few nights ago.
Sophomore guard Daniel Hackett had 19 points on eight-for-13 shooting and Gibson staged a bounce-back performance in which he finished one point short of his third double-double. The sophomore forward had nine points and 13 rebounds in 25 minutes.
“I thought that was one of my best games in a while considering that Coach just talked to me a lot and told me to just keep with it,” said Gibson, who averaged 3.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and fouled out three times over his previous four games.
Junior forward Titus Shelton and senior guard Dawin Whiten had 12 points apiece for Cal Poly, which fell out of contention after the Trojans extended a 12-point halftime advantage to 21 points less than four minutes into the second half.
“What we’re seeing now is guys relying on cutting and the next pass and making great decisions off the dribble in terms of the pass,” Floyd said. “Our screening is getting better, we’re running our actions better. We’re not playing against the same caliber of opponent, but we couldn’t have done this against Kansas or Memphis at that stage of where we were in our development.”