LOS ANGELES (AP) — The big and the small of it got things done for Southern California.
Nikola Vucevic scored 17 of his career-high-tying 19 points in the second half as the Trojans defeated UC Irvine 62-49 in their season opener Saturday.
“The first win is always the hardest one,” he said. “We’ve got to adjust to playing together. We did a pretty good job, even though we had mistakes in the second half.”
Vucevic and fellow 6-foot-10 frontcourt mate Alex Stepheson helped the Trojans dominate the boards 47-26, with Vucevic snagging 14 rebounds and Stepheson 13 to go with six points.
At the opposite end of the size spectrum, Maurice Jones, a 5-7 freshman charged with running the offense, added 13 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals while playing all 40 minutes. Fellow freshman Bryce Jones, who is not related, had 14 points and eight rebounds.
“I felt comfortable,” Maurice Jones said. “By me penetrating, I got some open shots. This year (coach) wants us to run a lot more.”
Pavol Losonsky led the Anteaters with 13 points, and Eric Wise added 12. Irvine (0-2) fell to 10-31 against Pac-10 schools. The Anteaters were held to 35 percent shooting.
“This was a game that we should have taken down to the wire,” first-year Irvine coach Russell Turner said. “We made some really bad offensive plays in the second half, and we didn’t show the defensive toughness that we needed to win.”
The Trojans got started on a season in which they have something to play for after sitting out the postseason in March because of school-imposed sanctions relating to O.J. Mayo’s stint with the team.
“I’ll take any win, anytime, anywhere,” second-year coach Kevin O’Neill said. “We did a good job attacking. We knew it was going to be a tough game. We had some chances to really stretch it out, and we just didn’t do it.”
Vucevic was big on the boards in the first half, when he scored only two points thanks to Irvine’s double-teaming. He started the second half with a 3-pointer. His highlight play came when he grabbed a missed 3-point attempt as it skimmed across the basket and slammed it in one-handed, extending USC’s lead to 51-38.
“We came in with a game plan to make it difficult on him in the first half, which we were able to execute,” Turner said. “In the second half, he didn’t give us a chance to do that.”
The Trojans led by 15 in the second half before Irvine cut its deficit to six on a run that included five points by Daman Starring.
But Maurice Jones answered with a layup, Vucevic chipped in a basket and Donte Smith hit a 3-pointer to keep USC ahead.
“Mo was good,” Vucevic said. “He ran our team well, and he took care of the ball. We have a lot of confidence in him.”
Tied 11-11, the Trojans took the lead for good on consecutive 3-pointers by Bryce Jones to launch a 19-14 run that ended the half with them ahead 30-24. Maurice Jones and Smith also hit 3s in the spurt. USC controlled the boards 26-11, with nine each by Stepheson and Vucevic.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)