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USC BASKETBALL FYI

Trojans are looking for help at guard

Coach Tim Floyd is counting on Marcus Simmons and Donte Smith to provide some relief for starters Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis.

January 21, 2009|Chris Foster

Auditions are underway. The USC basketball team is looking for someone to fill 20 minutes each game and keep guards Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis from fatigue.

That casting call has sophomores Marcus Simmons and Donte Smith trying to prove they are worthy of the role.

"We're begging one of them to come on and give us relief minutes for Daniel and Dwight," Coach Tim Floyd said. "There is 22 minutes out there at guard."

Both are trying to clear hurdles to earn some, or all, of that time.

Simmons came in as a promising freshman a year ago but lost most of the season because of a high ankle sprain. He played in only 15 games. He is trying to overcome another ankle injury this season.

Smith was earmarked to be Hackett's backup but is still shaking off the cobwebs from a year without basketball. He sat out last season while attending Mt. San Antonio College. He averaged nearly 17 minutes a game through the first seven games but saw his time fall off because of ineffectiveness.

"We're really trying to give those guys as much time as we can with the first unit," Floyd said. "We see improvement in both of them."

Simmons is still bothered by a tender left ankle but could see his time increased Thursday when the Trojans play at Washington. Lewis suffered a mild ankle sprain on Monday and his availability is in question.

"I think there is time out there for me," Simmons said. "It's been hard with the ankle injury. I just have to take care of the ball. It seems like every time I get in there, I have a turnover."

Said Floyd: "We're trying to get him to a point where we trust him at [off-guard] all the time. Bless his heart, he has not been able to practice consistently the last two weeks, but he is starting to get a little better."

Smith has also had turnover problems and said the difficulty has been getting used to playing competitive basketball again.

"I would try to go to the gym every night last year, but it didn't feel the same," Smith said. "When you're in the gym by yourself, and don't have anyone there to challenge and push you, it's hard."

The need for some relief has been apparent in recent games. Hackett suffered from leg cramps against UCLA and had to sit out three minutes in the second half. USC went from leading, 51-48, to trailing, 53-51.

Smith, Floyd said, needs to plug that gap. "When you watch him in practice, he's terrific," Floyd said. "He has to come into a game and not allow the game to digress while he's in there. He has to at least hold the score where it is until our starters get back in."

Lewis update

Lewis, the Trojans' leading scorer, did not practice Tuesday, a day after spraining his left ankle.

"We anticipate Dwight will be able to play," Floyd said. "He hurt the ankle in the first minute of practice and was on crutches, but I'm told [by trainers] they think he will be OK."

Lewis averages 15.8 points. He has played in all 87 games since coming to USC in 2006.

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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