Maurice Jones gives USC a lift in new role


USC’s double-digit lead had evaporated. California’s comeback was almost complete. During a timeout, USC Coach Kevin O’Neill begged for someone to step up. And someone did.

It was a player who began the game sitting down, a role Maurice Jones hadn’t faced in USC’s previous 25 games.

That didn’t seem to bother the freshman guard. He looked just fine in the second half of USC’s 78-75 win Thursday against the Golden Bears in Berkeley, when he scored all 22 of his points, including making five of six from three-point range.

“He single-handedly held off their comeback and gave us a chance to win,” O’Neill said Friday.

O’Neill had started Jones every game until Thursday, when he started senior guard Donte Smith in his place, trying to boost the offense. (Smith scored four points.) Part of why Jones has struggled, O’Neill said, is that he can be too passive.


“We’ve been talking to him about being more aggressive all the time, and it finally got to the point where we were demanding it of him,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill said he’ll stay with this new starting lineup Saturday night when the Trojans (14-12, 6-7 in Pacific 10 Conference play) face Stanford (13-12, 6-8) at Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto.

In another move, O’Neill said USC did nothing basketball-related Friday: no film, no practice, no walk-through.

The players just rested and they’ll do a walkthrough a few hours before they play the Cardinal.

“I want to see how their energy level is,” O’Neill said. “It’s something new.”

Their energy level should be better with a healthy Jio Fontan. The junior guard missed nine of 10 shots against California, but O’Neill said Fontan was too sick to play and shouldn’t have.