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USC Gets Pounded in an 83-65 Defeat

Trojans' turnovers and bad decisions lead to a second-half rally by Western Michigan in season opener.

November 22, 2003|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — For two consecutive days, the USC men's basketball team received the most grating of wake-up calls, the incessant early-morning pounding and drilling of a hotel undergoing renovations ... on every floor.

The damage the workers' hammers did to the Trojans' sleep habits was nothing, though, compared to the alarming "pardon our dust, under construction" signs Western Michigan hung around their necks in both schools' season opener Friday night.

USC, which started three newcomers, let a late lead slip away in a 17-1 Bronco run that broke the Trojans as they fell, 83-65, before a vocal crowd of 4,126 at University Arena.

"I kind of expected this," said USC Coach Henry Bibby, who is 6-2 in season openers, the other defeat coming at New Mexico in 1997. "You see what we do in practice every day and ... you've got your older guys that are on cruise control, and they've got to step out of that mode and start playing for us."

Bibby started freshman guards Lodrick and Rodrick Stewart and junior transfer Jeff McMillan alongside junior center Rory O'Neil and senior guard Desmon Farmer. While the new guys looked great at times -- they combined for 30 points and nine rebounds -- they also seemed completely lost and, some would say, selfish, at others, playing one-on-one with aplomb.

O'Neil was the only USC upperclassman to step up, leading the team with 15 points and eight rebounds. Farmer had 12 points, with 10 in the second half, and junior guards Derrick and Errick Craven combined for three points, four turnovers and seven fouls.

USC, which led by as many as eight points in the first half, held a three-point lead, 59-56, following an O'Neil basket with 8:32 remaining in the game.

That's when the wheels came off for USC. A rash of turnovers and bad decisions contributed to the Bronco run over the next five minutes that sealed the Trojans' fate.

"We didn't play defense," O'Neil said. "Defense is what's going to get us wins this season, defense and rebounding. We didn't play any defense, and they were able to score any time they wanted to."

Things weren't much better on the other side of the court, Bibby said.

"We turned the basketball over ... three or four times in a row," he said. "They got layups out of the turnovers. We played a very good basketball team. It's a good test for us and it gets our attention."

The Broncos, led by a new coach, Ventura-born Steve Hawkins, shot 53.6% from the field in the second half and had 25 assists on 28 baskets in the game. Forward Mike Williams had a game-high 31 points and nine rebounds for Western Michigan.

"We wanted to keep the turnovers down because their defense sets their offense," Hawkins said. "We didn't want that."

USC, which forced 12 turnovers, acknowledged it was a disappointing start to the season.

"We just got out of our game," said Farmer, a native of Flint, Mich., who was playing his first college game in his home state. "Like Coach said, guys started trying to do their own thing instead of doing his system.

"It was the same thing ... last year. I think we've got to go back to the drawing board and talk ... because this is what we said we weren't going to do and it's looking like we're starting to do it again. We've got to get our mind right for this next game."

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