The takeoff for USC's basketball season wasn't so smooth Saturday, but the result was a 62-49 win over UC Irvine at the Galen Center.
If the opener is an indicator, the Trojans and their fans might be in for a bumpy ride, at least until junior guard Jio Fontan becomes eligible in December, when he could give the young, depth-deprived squad a much-needed boost.
For now, the idea of advancing to a postseason tournament one season removed from a postseason ban is the least of USC's worries.
There are plenty of other issues, such as adjusting to the speed that freshman point guard Maurice Jones provides.
In his first regular-season game, Jones proved to be the dart-quick floor leader USC Coach Kevin O'Neill raved about, scoring 13 points on four-for-12 shooting while adding four assists and four turnovers in 40 minutes.
But when Jones knifed through UC Irvine's 2-3 zone defense, he often found there were no open shooters on the perimeter or that his two post players were swallowed up by double-teams.
And when Jones raced upcourt in transition, a new emphasis by O'Neill after last season's stagnant offense — which averaged a Pacific 10 Conference-low 59.6 points per game — he was often the only Trojan there.
"I know Mo is going to run a [fast]break, but he can't run a one-man break when these other four guys are jogging all the time," O'Neill said.
USC led by six at halftime, but junior forward Nikola Vucevic, who scored just two points in the first half, came out aggressive after the intermission, scoring nine of USC's first 13 points.
The Trojans led by no fewer than six — and as many as 15 — in the second half, and their advantage seemed safe after Vucevic's jump shot with 5 minutes 47 seconds left put them up by 10.
"Vucevic made the adjustments at halftime that he needed to make, and he took over the game," said UC Irvine's Russell Turner, a first-year coach who was previously an assistant with the Golden State Warriors.
Vucevic tied his career high with 19 points and said USC's struggles were simply growing pains.
"We've just got to adjust to playing together because it's a new team," said.
Making the struggles more difficult, sophomore forward Evan Smith (left shoulder) will be out indefinitely because of an injury that plagued him last season, O'Neill said.
It's also troubling that senior forward Alex Stepheson, who made two of nine shots, scored six points and grabbed 13 rebounds, looked as uncomfortable with the ball in his hands as he did last season.
On consecutive plays in the first half, Stepheson turned it over. And on consecutive plays in the second half, he missed tip-in tries.
"That's just who he is," O'Neill said.
Freshman Bryce Jones, roommate to Maurice, debuted with 14 points and eight rebounds, and USC dominated the glass overall, 47 to 26.
And though O'Neill said both Joneses played beyond their age, he said Maurice needs to be more aggressive on both offense and defense.
"He's going to make some mistakes because it's a different level," O'Neill said of his freshman point guard, "but he can really make plays, and I want him to do a little bit more."
Maurice Jones should also be ready to play 40 minutes every game for some time, O'Neill said.
So is the 5-foot-7, 155-pound 18-year-old ready?
"I've got to be," Jones said. "We've got eight games in 16 days."