Henry Bibby fancies himself a defense-minded coach, an old-school taskmaster who preaches about how playing good defense creates opportunities at the other end of the court.
Imagine his early-season chagrin, then, at USC's defensive lapses and the Trojans' coughing up leads in losses to the likes of Nevada Las Vegas (they blew a seven-point advantage in the last minute) and during a 24-point blowout loss at Brigham Young.
But something changed Friday at Fresno State. USC played hard and smart on defense and was able to escape with a victory after holding the Bulldogs to one field goal in the game's final 8:45, and only two points -- on a pair of free throws -- in the last 5:36.
It's a nascent trend the Trojans hope will continue tonight against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
It's also one that got its legs in practice last week.
"We were out there running on the track in our defensive slides," said junior point guard Derrick Craven. "We had to do two laps in our defensive slides.
"There [were] some questions about our conditioning too. That's why we had to do two laps. It was a tough week, a really hectic week."
Said Bibby: "The kids fight; they're fighters."
The victory over Fresno State was USC's final nonconference road game. And the Trojans, who are 2-2 away from the Sports Arena with wins against the Bulldogs and St. Mary's and losses at Western Michigan and BYU, could not be happier.
In what could be seen as home cooking, USC's hosts have attempted 61 more free throws (112 to 51) and the Trojans have been called for 28 more fouls on the road than their hosts (89 to 61).