USC guard Donte Smith made a clutch three-point basket against UCLA midway through the second half Sunday. The shot, from the left wing, boosted USC's lead to 52-47 with 8 minutes 42 seconds to play.
After he made it, Smith swiveled his neck back and forth and smiled wide as he ran down the court. "I told my guys I was going to do that if I hit one," he said after USC's 68-64 victory.
Smith matched his career high with 12 points in the game.
But he hadn't been so happy of late, because he hadn't been playing.
Smith didn't play against Stanford on Feb. 6, and said he was "mad [and] frustrated," so he and Coach Kevin O'Neill had a chat.
"I told him the only way to get playing time was to do it in practice first," O'Neill said.
So, said Smith, "that's what I did this whole week of practice." And Smith played 19 minutes Sunday, his most since playing 23 against Idaho State on Dec. 11.
Earlier this season, Smith was logging 32 minutes per game, but that changed Dec. 18 when point guard Mike Gerrity, a two-time transfer, became eligible. Smith had averaged 7.4 minutes per game in the 14 games before Sunday. (He sat out the Nevada Las Vegas game because of an injury.)
Coping with the reduction in playing time was a transition for Smith, but he has been more upbeat lately.
"I was just out there playing basketball, having fun, not thinking, just playing relaxed," he said. "I was way confident."
Credit O'Neill's simple philosophy about earning playing time.
"When a guy is not happy with his playing time, I tell everybody the same thing: 'When you get your minutes, play them hard,' " O'Neill said. "And [Smith] did, when he got his minutes, he played them hard, and if you play them hard, you'll get more of them."
O'Neill called the first USC-UCLA game -- a 21-point Trojans win -- an "aberration." And Sunday's game showed it.
But one constant for USC was senior guard Dwight Lewis. He had a season-high 24 points against UCLA last month, and had his next-best game this season -- 23 points Sunday.
"He made big shots," O'Neill said. "He made free throws down the stretch that were critical. He did a very good job defensively. When Dwight plays like that, we have a chance."