USC point guard Donte Smith drives against UC Riverside's Sean Cunningham… (Christine Cotter / Los Angeles…)
Donte Smith won the starting point-guard role for USC without challenge because he's the most experienced of several inexperienced players at the position.
Smith, who started only three games last season and played sparingly down the stretch because he was overweight, played the entire 40 minutes in Tuesday's season-opener against UC Riverside.
He credits, for his new-found stamina, a summer workout regimen that enabled the 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior to shed 25 pounds.
"If I would have had those 25 pounds on me, I don't think I would have made it," said Smith, who scored a career-high 12 points to go with two assists against the Highlanders.
Said Coach Kevin O'Neill: "Forty minutes of basketball for a guy that never played, in a starting role against a pretty decent team -- for Donte to play that well is obviously encouraging."
Smith played the entire game because the Trojans had only seven players available because of injuries and eligibility issues involving other players.
And it'll be a similar scenario tonight against Loyola Marymount.
Two are freshmen, one is a sophomore, three are juniors and shooting guard Dwight Lewis is the lone senior.
"I feel like the old man on the team. But it's nice to see everybody stepping up and playing well. It's going to be a fun year," Lewis said.
Two Trojans besides Smith enjoyed career-high shooting performances against the Highlanders. Junior guard Marcus Simmons and sophomore forward Nikola Vucevic had 18 points apiece.
And it won't be surprising if these players improve on those performances tonight against the Lions.
"I guess that will tell you what happens when you've got six guys sitting out off a team that lost four starters and an entire recruiting class. So guys are going to have career highs because they haven't played before," O'Neill said.
Lions are mere cubs
The Trojans, who are inexperienced and figure to struggle against more formidable opponents, will face a Loyola Marymount team that is 1-3 but has played three more games than the Trojans.
That makes the Lions, who are led this season by Drew Viney (18.0 scoring average) and Larry Davis, (14.3 points), a more seasoned squad at this stage of the season.
However, the Lions were 3-28 last season and are even younger than the Trojans. Three of their four returning starters are sophomores and there's not a senior in their starting five.
"We can't take them for granted at all, or they'll come in and beat us," Lewis said.
Home sweet home
The Trojans improved to 41-10 at the Galen Center after their 77-67 victory against UC Riverside.
They've now won 20 of their last 22 at home and will play their next three games at the Galen Center before traveling to Texas for a Dec. 3 game against the No. 3 Longhorns.