USC basketball newcomers get introduction to UCLA rivalry

Sunday night at the Galen Center will be the first time Bryce Jones has played in the crosstown showdown between UCLA and USC, but the freshman guard certainly isn’t new to the rivalry.

“My mom has been taking me to these games ever since I was little,” the former Woodland Hills Taft High star said.

Still, there’s a big difference between watching and playing in a game sure to be filled with emotion.


USC (9-6, 1-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference) has several newcomers, aside from Jones, who will be making that adjustment.

Coach Kevin O'Neill isn’t worrying about it, saying, “I don’t think it will be any different than playing at Kansas or at Tennessee.”

Freshman guard Maurice Jones and junior guard Jio Fontan echoed that point, but said they’re excited, as did O'Neill.

“It should be a heck of a basketball game,” O'Neill said. “It’s a great rivalry. If it was knitting, it would be a great rivalry between UCLA and USC.”

Matchup to watch

Senior guard Marcus Simmons is usually assigned to guard the opposing team’s most potent perimeter scorer.

Against UCLA (9-5, 1-1), he’ll face Bruins sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt, who is second on the team in scoring with an average of 14.6 points per game.

“Marcus has played a lot of good players,” O'Neill said. “Honeycutt is as good as any of them.”

Simmons is 6 feet 6 compared to the 6-foot-8 Honeycutt, and Simmons called the former Sylmar High star a “big guard” who is “long and athletic.”

“It’s a different challenge every game, but I approach them the same,” Simmons said. “Be aggressive, make him work to get shots.”

Just visiting

USC will have many recruits on hand for Sunday’s game, including shooting guard Shabazz Muhammad, a Las Vegas native who is considered one of the top five prospects nationally in the class of 2012.

Also expected to be in attendance are Santa Ana Mater Dei junior Xavier Johnson, a forward; Chatsworth Sierra Canyon sophomore Jahmel Taylor, a guard; and Playa del Rey St. Bernard sophomore Brandon Randolph, a guard.

Checking in

Marcus Johnson, a forward who played for USC last season, practiced with the team on Thursday. According to a USC compliance officer, alumni are allowed to compete with their former teams on an occasional basis.

Stepheson sheds brace

Senior forward Alex Stepheson said doctors told him Wednesday that his left hand, which sustained a fracture in USC’s season-opening win against UC Irvine on Nov. 13, “looks good.” He didn’t wear a brace at practice Thursday and said it felt “weird, but good.”