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Trojans love the pressure

To coaches who face USC this season, Trojans Coach Kevin O’Neill asks one thing: Press us, please.

Full-court, if that’s all right, and all game long, if you don’t mind.

“The more people press us, the better I like it,” O’Neill said. “I wish everybody would press us.”

Tennessee, Nevada Las Vegas and Washington all tried, and failed, largely because of USC point guard Mike Gerrity.

In those wins, USC’s offense hummed along to better-than-usual numbers behind Gerrity, who averaged 13.3 points and 6.7 assists, compared to his season averages of 9.7 points and 3.8 assists.

“Mike is an awesome open-court player with the ball,” O’Neill said.

When teams press, Gerrity often inbounds the ball to a post player, who looks to pass it back to Gerrity, either running up the middle of the floor or along the sideline.

Once Gerrity has the ball, he runs full bore, using quick dribbles and fakes to dodge defenders. The result is often easy fastbreak points, such as his alley-oop passes that Marcus Johnson slammed in against Washington.

“There’s more space to operate,” Gerrity said of facing a full-court press. “I enjoy that because I’m able to weave in and out and look for openings.”

Gerrity has another trick.

While running and dribbling as he breaks a press, he’ll often skip for a step to keep defenders off balance.

“It’s funny,” he said. “I know I do it, but no one has really pointed it out, and then my fiancee was making fun of me. She was saying, ‘What is that?’ I didn’t even know anyone even notices that.”

He added: “It just kind of keeps them on their toes, lets them know I can go at them and get them on their heels.”

The player who made the move famous is current Miami Heat guard Rafer Alston, who is better known as the street ball legend “Skip to My Lou.”

Gerrity doesn’t know about Alston, but O’Neill, who spent eight years coaching in the NBA, does.

“He doesn’t remind me of Rafer by any stretch of the imagination,” O’Neill said, laughing.

But then he added, “He’s got a little Skip in his game, I guess.”

Comparatively speaking

Oregon State lost by 51 points earlier this year to Seattle University, which got demolished by 47 points Tuesday at the hands of the Washington Huskies, who were coming off a 26-point loss to USC on Saturday.

Add it all up, and USC should beat the Beavers by no fewer than 124 points. Yet, according to vegasinsider.com, the Trojans are favored by two points.

China is watching

The Trojans have had some interesting visitors at recent practices: the coaches of the Chinese national men’s and women’s basketball teams.

Sun Fengwu, the women’s coach, and Guo Shiqiang, the men’s coach, are on a three-month tour in which they are observing teams across America. They spent two weeks at the University of Kentucky, a month with the Dallas Mavericks, and came to Los Angeles on Dec. 28, where they’ve spent the last month watching the Lakers, Clippers, UCLA and, most recently, USC.

Jonathan Ouyang, an independent contractor who is working with the NBA’s Beijing office, said they’re mostly interested in learning different offensive and defensive philosophies.

They are scheduled to leave Los Angeles on Feb. 5.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com


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