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Trojans face a tall task in first road game

No. 2 Texas has depth USC can't match, so Trojans will try to control the tempo.

December 03, 2009|By Mark Medina

After several text message exchanges, neither junior forward Marcus Johnson of USC nor freshman guard Jordan Hamilton of Texas could abstain from trash talking.

"Friendly stuff, of course," Johnson said. "He was talking about how he's going to go for 50 points."

Johnson's response?

"He was telling me he would lock me down," said Hamilton, a Compton Dominguez High product whose 8.5 scoring average is best among Longhorns reserves. "We'll see how that goes."

They will find out Thursday when USC (2-2) plays its first road game as part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series at No. 2 Texas (5-0).

Even if Trojans Coach Kevin O'Neill likes Johnson's defensive presence, that doesn't account for the rest of the Longhorns, who he says have plenty of "talented depth."

Texas has 10 players averaging double digits in minutes. USC hasn't even suited up that many players for a game, and junior forward Alex Stepheson was the only Trojans reserve to play as many as 10 minutes in a loss to Nebraska on Sunday.

"We're going to have to control tempo," O'Neill said. "If we play at Texas' tempo, we're going to lose."

Yet, Johnson says he's not worried.

"We're prepared to play large minutes," said Johnson, who has averaged 10.3 points in 28 minutes in two games. "That's what we're here for."

Shared responsibility

O'Neill said at the Pacific 10 Conference's basketball media day that Donte Smith won the job as starting point guard "by default" because there were few other options.

Smith has been getting help from senior DwightLewis and junior Marcus Simmons, and the Trojans will probably stick with that rotation until senior transfer Mike Gerrity becomes eligible in a few weeks.

"We don't have a true 35-minute-a-game point guard right now," O'Neill said. "Everybody has to pitch in and help a little bit."

That was apparent in the loss to Nebraska. Smith played only 23 minutes because of foul trouble and still committed four of the team's season-high 17 turnovers.

Simmons, Lewis and Smith say they prefer the traditional role, but they said they were fine with the rotation.

"Everybody's different and they bring different things to the table, but we really want Dwight and Marcus on the wings," Smith said. "Once we get Mike back, we'll be all right."

The points aren't free

After shooting a combined six for 15 from the free-throw line against Nebraska, Johnson and Stepheson said they spent more time shooting free throws before and after practice. Both said they were confident they could move on from the poor performances.

"Fatigue starts kicking in sometimes," Stepheson said. "Sometimes you don't think enough when you're on the free-throw line."

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