Alex Stepheson nurses broken hand as USC gets set for Hall of Fame Tip-Off games

USC forward Alex Stepheson pedaled a stationary bicycle off to the side during practice, squeezing a tennis ball with his right hand to make it stronger.

He can't do that exercise with his left hand, though. It's broken.

But although that injury is costing Stepheson some practice time, it's not stopping him from playing games.

Since fracturing his hand in the Trojans' season-opening win against UC Irvine on Nov. 13, Stepheson has played 74 of a possible 80 minutes in USC's next two games, totaling 15 points and 13 rebounds.

Stepheson wore a cast in each of those games, which is what he says he'll do until the injury is healed. He ices the hand after games and sits out from practice the next day. He said he should be fine in two weeks.

Expect the senior to start and perhaps finish USC's games Saturday against Bradley and Sunday against New Mexico State in Springfield, Mass., at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament. (The Bradley game starts at 2 p.m. PST and New Mexico State at 11:30 a.m. PST, both carried on AM radio 690.)

USC is 2-1 and Bradley 3-0. New Mexico State is 2-1 entering its game Saturday against Massachusetts.

USC is coming off a 20-point loss to Rider on Wednesday in which Stepheson said the injury limited his effectiveness on offense.

The bright side: "At least today I was able to catch the ball and hold it a little bit," he said.

But Stepheson can still contribute by blocking or altering shots, using his 6-foot-10 frame to close passing lanes, set screens with his 250 pounds, and work inside to draw double teams that will free up the team's jump shooters.

The Trojans need his presence, which Coach Kevin O'Neill acknowledged after USC's 86-73 win against Santa Clara on Monday.

"I thought Al had an unbelievable performance," O'Neill said. "To play 40 minutes with a broken hand says a lot a lot about him. He really changed a lot of things in there."

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