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Trojans need to bully better

USC, which is 1-5 against the Pac-10's four current cellar-dwellers, still can share the league title.

February 24, 2010|By Baxter Holmes

USC can beat the best, but not the worst this season.

The Trojans are 7-1 versus the Pacific 10 Conference's top six teams and 1-5 against the current bottom four.

USC Coach Kevin O'Neill's quick explanation was "most of those [losses] came on the road." USC's losses to Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford all came on the road, while Washington State beat USC both home and away.

"The important thing," O'Neill continued, "is that we've been in every game with a chance to win it."

Indeed, USC has led or been tied in the second half in all 14 of its Pac-10 games.

But he said the stat shows that although the Trojans can defend anyone, the outcome of games comes down to their ability to score: If shots fall, they can beat Goliath; if not, they could lose to David.

"That's just how we're built," O'Neill said.

Trojans guards Mike Gerrity and Dwight Lewis believe it's something else, that USC gets hyped for top opponents but deflated for lesser ones.

"I feel like we have letdowns during those games," Lewis said. "We've just got to play a straight 40 minutes."

They'd better hurry. The Trojans have four games left and, more important, if they win out and Arizona State beats California, USC would win at least a share of the league title.

They know this. O'Neill tells them so at practice.

So, assuming USC beats the Oregon teams this week, Gerrity said that "you'll see some guys that are really hungry to finish the goal we started the season with."

Stepheson's slide

In his last four games combined, forward Alex Stepheson has 11 points and 15 rebounds, well off his season average of 8.4 points and seven rebounds per game.

According to O'Neill and Stepheson, there are reasons for this dip: limited minutes, collapsing defenses, physical play, his wearing down at season's end -- plus his allergic reaction to a contact lens solution at Washington, where he played only 10 minutes last week.

Still, Stepheson admits he's been tentative recently.

"I need to bring more energy," he said. "I'm rebounding, I'm playing defense, scoring in the post, but I think I need to pick up my energy and intensity more and really get after it."

New look

Over the weekend, while his team shocked Washington and flopped at Washington State, USC point guard Jio Fontan went under the artist's needle, getting tattoos symbolizing his days at legendary St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, N.J.

Fontan, a transfer from Fordham, is not yet eligible to play for the Trojans. The tattoos, on his left and right forearms, read "Family" and "BTB." They represent a close group of seven teammates at St. Anthony that became known as the "Big Time Boys."

Everyone in that group plays college basketball and either has a tattoo representing that name or plans to get it, Fontan said. He spent two hours and about $160 Saturday getting his tattoos.

Fontan will also be featured in a documentary about his high school called "The Street Stops Here," which PBS will air March 31. The documentary focuses on St. Anthony's iconic Coach Bob Hurley Sr. Fontan said he is one of six main characters.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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