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USC basketball team regaining its health just in time for some big tests

USC basketball team regaining its health just in time for some big tests
Bennie Boatwright, pulling down a rebound against Washington last season, returned to the USC lineup on Wednesday after missing nine months because of a knee injury. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

It took two games for the USC men’s basketball team to feature a lineup that wasn’t riddled with injuries. The Trojans still were not fully healthy during their victory over Stetson on Wednesday, with sophomore guard Chuck O’Bannon recovering from pinkie surgery.

Coach Andy Enfield estimated that the team had at least 10 players at practice four times during the preseason. Often, only six or eight Trojans participated.

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“Everybody was hurt or out,” Enfield said. “Some guys had pink eye, some had ankle injuries, knee, you name it.”

USC (2-1) is set to play Texas Tech (3-0) in the Hall of Fame Classic on Monday in Kansas City, Mo., with restored health, but some players have only a game under their belt and sparse practice time. Their unfamiliarity has translated into competition.

“We’d call play No. 1, or 2 or 3, they knew what it was,” Enfield said of the players last season. “Now when I call play 1, 2 or 3, two or three of them look at me like, ‘What’s that again, Coach?’”

With Bennie Boatwright recently returned after nine months out because of a knee injury, Enfield had to start four guards in USC’s three games. Boatwright made his debut against Stetson off the bench, contributing 16 points, including four three-point baskets and four rebounds.

Guard Elijah Weaver also made his debut Wednesday after recovering from an ankle injury suffered in August, rounding out a freshman class that contributed 27 of USC’s 95 points.

Enfield’s newfound freedom to use a larger lineup comes against a Texas Tech team that has earned a rebounding margin of 15, compared with USC’s 5.7.

The Trojans scored 48 points in the paint and out-rebounded Stetson 46-38, but lacked depth in the frontcourt behind Boatwright, who played 18 minutes Wednesday. And they allowed the Hatters 16 offensive rebounds, which became 15 second-chance points.

The Hall of Fame Classic leaves little room for error. After Texas Tech, USC is to face Nebraska or Missouri State in the championship or consolation game Tuesday.

“These are NCAA tournament teams,” Enfield said.

USC knows what it must do to contend — defend aggressively, start playing fast, win the rebounding battles and take advantage of the mental toughness built by health frustrations.

And make up for lost time.

UP NEXT

VS. TEXAS TECH

When: 6:30 PST.

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Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.

On the air: TV: ESPN2; Radio: KROC 1110AM.

Update: The Trojans face a Texas Tech team that has outscored opponents by 33.7 points per game. Jarrett Culver leads the Red Raiders with 16.3 points per game and Norense Odiase averages 10.0 rebounds.

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