If that was a gauntlet UCLA freshman Kevin Love threw down Friday night, it was as if O.J. Mayo, the freshman across town at USC, completely missed it.
The box score says Mayo scored 32 points in his debut Saturday, but -- mercy! -- he did it in a 96-81 loss to Mercer. And 25 of them came after the Trojans, already getting trampled, gave Mayo the ball in the second half and basically told the 6-foot-5 guard to break people down with the skills that will take him to the NBA as soon as next year.
For the entire first half, you'd have sworn there wasn't a first-round NBA pick on the floor, and that Mayo might be around for his sophomore season.
"I didn't play too well," Mayo said after making 12 of 27 shots and committing eight turnovers, more than any other player in the game. "I think I missed a lot of easy shots. My teammates were setting me up well."
Mayo said he was nervous for his first college game. But if it was the bright lights and big city he came to Los Angeles for, they were in little evidence Saturday at the Galen Center.
With the USC football team playing at California later in the afternoon, there wasn't much buzz in the building to begin with.
And what little the sparse crowd of 3,856 could generate pretty much went pfffit as USC, playing virtually no defense and clanging shots off the rim from the free-throw line, fell behind by as many as 21 in the first half.
Mayo made only three of 11 shots in the first half, scoring seven points. James Florence, a 6-1 sophomore for Mercer, made him look foolish at times, stealing the ball from him in transition, and later taking it right out of Mayo's hands as Mayo tried to get off a shot before the halftime buzzer.
Give Mayo this, at least: He complimented Mercer afterward; he sounded like a team player; and he mixed in his usual "yes sirs."
And despite the missed shots and the two unnecessary early fouls that limited his ability to be aggressive offensively, it's fairly clear that those 32 points -- the most ever by a USC freshman in his debut -- probably aren't going to be the most he scores this season.
The behind-the-back moves, the quick-release shot, the ability to get his own shot even when he's guarded, the strength and body control when he's in the air, they're all there.
"I thought he played fine on the offensive end," USC Coach Tim Floyd said. "They've all got to get better on the other end."
Take it from Florence, the Mercer guard who scored 30 points and walked out a winner.
"He's good, as good as the hype," said Florence, who remembered going against Mayo in summer tournaments, even though Mayo didn't remember him.
"I've been hearing about O.J. Mayo since I was in 9th or 10th grade," Florence said. "I'm just sky-high."
Mayo's numbers, though deceptive, will go down as the latest high-scoring debut by what we will not call the Class of 2011 -- they won't be around that long -- but the freshmen of 2007-08.
Love, UCLA's new post man, had 22 points, 13 rebounds and three assists in an all-around performance in the Bruins' victory over Portland State.
Point guard Derrick Rose of Memphis averaged 19 points in his first two games.
And forward Michael Beasley of Kansas State had 32 points and 24 rebounds against Sacramento State, breaking the Big 12 Conference record for rebounds that was shared by Kevin Durant, last year's national player of the year as a freshman at Texas.
But other than the performances of the freshmen, the big story of the early season is probably the performance of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Mercer, with its upset of No. 18 USC, became the second team from the Atlantic Sun to upset a top-25 team on its home court, joining Gardner-Webb, which toppled No. 20 Kentucky in Rupp Arena last week. Besides that, Belmont upended Cincinnati, ending the Bearcats' 42-game winning streak in home openers.
"We saw Gardner-Webb from our league win, Belmont from our league win. We had the same kind of strategy as them, just take the fight to them," said Mercer Coach Mark Slonaker, who noted the injuries USC has suffered on top of losing Nick Young, Gabe Pruitt and Lodrick Stewart from last season's Sweet 16 team.
"As a coach you know what it's like when you can't get all your guys in practice, can't get a rhythm going," Slonaker said. "We felt like there was an opportunity."
USC magnified that opportunity with its stunning lack of defense, spotty rebounding and an 18-for-32 performance from the free-throw line, including a five-for-10 performance from Taj Gibson.
The other unexpected factor was how well Mercer played, and how it fought off the Mayo-led charge, even when the Trojans cut the lead to three less than midway through the second half.
Mercer simply never looked scared.
"No doubt about it," Slonaker said. "This day and age, these kids are playing the elite AAU teams, and they see everybody in the country. There's not the intimidating factor of playing somebody you haven't seen before. Most of them are excited about wanting to play against them."
Before the final seconds ticked off the clock, Mayo was walking off the floor, a veteran of scores of summer league games, but a loser in his first college game.
"They did a great job," he said of Mercer. "They played well."