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USC BASKETBALL

Trojans pass first test against Cal State Dominguez Hills, 64-47

USC, without four key players, starts slow in first exhibition game against Division II team but come out strong for second half.

November 02, 2009|Pete Thomas

With its roster depleted by injuries and eligibility issues, the USC men's basketball team was hoping merely to survive its first exhibition without suffering further calamities Sunday against Division II Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Mission accomplished, thanks to a second-half rally led by senior guard Dwight Lewis and an unlikely cast of supporters who helped produce a 64-47 victory before a sparse but enthusiastic Galen Center crowd.

Lewis, held to two-for-10 shooting in the first half, scored 10 of his game-high 17 points in the second half.

Davis Rozitis, the pretzel-thin 7-foot Latvian forward who had not played well recently in practice, had 14 points and nine rebounds.

Forward Kasey Cunningham, a redshirt junior who missed most or all of the last three seasons because of knee problems, chipped in 12 points and seven rebounds.

"It's a start, that's all I can say," Trojans Coach Kevin O'Neill said. "It's a start, and I'd rather win than lose, so that worked out well for us."

It didn't work out well in the first half. The Toros, who have only two seniors, played a tenacious zone defense and were led by guards Robert Willhite and Jamel Ward, who had eight points apiece to help their team to a 35-29 halftime lead.

Ward and Tim McLaurin led the Toros with 10 points apiece.

But whereas the Trojans came out inspired in the second half, with Rozitis opening with a layup and Lewis following with a three-pointer, the Toros looked weary and could not stay with their Division I rivals, offensively or defensively.

Cunningham and Rozitis became dominant inside.

Asked how he was able to solve the double- and triple-team pressure on the perimeter, Lewis, the Trojans' leading scorer last season, said, "I just kept shooting."

The Trojans shot 54.2% from the field in the second half, and 42.3% for the game.

Their struggles early were understandable. They were without four key players -- two because of injuries and two because of eligibility issues. Alex Stepheson (knee) and Nikola Vucevic (calf) are listed as day to day; forward Leonard Washington has academic issues and transfer Mike Gerrity cannot play until next semester.

--

pete.thomas@latimes.com

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