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USC BASKETBALL

Nikola Vucevic shifts, and USC's offense falls into place

Coach Kevin O'Neill's decision to move junior forward from the paint to the high post and run the offense through him is paying dividends.

November 23, 2010|By Baxter Holmes

A week ago, the USC men's basketball team got smashed at home by Rider, losing by 20 points.

The Trojans' problem in that game, aside from the Broncs' shooting lights out enough to set Galen Center opponent records, was that it could do almost nothing against a zone defense.

This was an issue USC Coach Kevin O'Neill knew his team would face this season because it lacks the shooters to stretch a zone.

But following that game, he made a decision: Move junior forward Nikola Vucevic from the paint to the high post/three-point line area, and run the offense through him.

In the two games since, a one-point loss to Bradley and a 19-point win over New Mexico State, the Trojans seem to have found the potential zone-buster they needed.

"It's really helped us so far," O'Neill said.

Vucevic, who is averaging 18.2 points and 10.8 rebounds, totaled 10 assists in those two games. His success comes from his strong outside shooting touch, which forces defenders to stay near him, and his ability at 6-foot-10 to see the floor well and throw over the top of defenders.

"It's taken a lot of the decision-making away from our freshmen," O'Neill added.

Vucevic said he enjoys being unselfish and working as a facilitator.

"Once we pass the ball a few times, and they have to play other people too, it gives me open shots, so it helps me, which has been good for us so far," Vucevic said.

He made both his three-point shots against New Mexico State, doubling his season total to that point.

And his passing contributed to double-digit point performances in each of the games by both freshmen Bryce Jones and Garrett Jackson.

In all, O'Neill wasn't ready to say this new offense is the antidote USC needed against a zone, but, he said, "it gives us options," whereas before, zones were just double-teaming Vucevic and forward Alex Stepheson.

Now, USC has something to potentially take that away, and through two games it has proved to be a more effective way to distribute the ball.

"As soon as we get it to Nik, it's an easy bucket," said Jones, who scored 34 combined points in those two games.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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