Adversity takes its toll on the Trojans

USC is said to be running on fumes. The truth is, the Trojans would be lucky to have any fumes left.

With a shallow bench and a roster that includes several players racking up minutes after not playing much last season, it’s evident the team is worn to the bone.

Coach Kevin O’Neill said that “tired shouldn’t be an excuse,” but he also admits that obstacles his players faced this year are a major factor in their current fatigue.

“The adversity and the constant having to overcome adversity takes a toll on guys who haven’t had to play major minutes before,” O’Neill said.

Senior guard Mike Gerrity had been going with the company line: that every player is tired at this point in the season. But he changed his tune Tuesday and said USC’s recent losses against Oregon and Oregon State came from something else.

“We lost focus in both these past couple games,” Gerrity said. “We had leads at halftime and we lost sight of what was getting us those leads.”

O’Neill went slightly further, saying perhaps the pressure of trying to win a Pacific 10 Conference regular-season title was too much.

Offense lacking

The Trojans’ train-wreck offense scored a total of 88 points against the Oregon teams last week, its lowest combined back-to-back output since putting up 81 points in 1988.

But such an output seemed foretold, since the poor showings came against teams that sit in the Pac-10 cellar. USC’s record against that crowd is abysmal: 1-7 versus the league’s bottom four teams.

Meantime, USC’s record against the conference’s top five teams is 7-1.

“It’s mind-boggling,” guard Dwight Lewis said. “I don’t know what it is. We beat good teams and lose to the bottom half.”

It seems to come down to matchups. The Trojans were able to push the ball against Washington and UCLA, and won all four games against those teams, averaging 72.3 points.

Yet in games against Oregon and Oregon State, teams that play zone defense and force USC to play a half-court game, the Trojans lost all four times, averaging just 47.5 points.

Lewis, citing USC’s 17.3-turnover average and inability to get second-chance shots, believes the Trojans’ problems against the Oregon schools went beyond pace.

“I feel like we can play half-court against a zone, we just can’t turn that thing over all the time, and we need to crash the boards,” he said.