Reporting from Fort Worth — The Trojans are deuces wild. Win a pair, drop a pair, win another, drop another...
Their 81-69 folding to Texas Christian on Monday night established that pattern, one to be expected for a team that relies on 18-year-old playmakers.
Namely, starting freshman guards Maurice Jones and Bryce Jones, who combined for 11 points on four-for-18 shooting.
"We're playing three freshmen major minutes, our center has a broken hand, we lost four of our top six [players] from last year from a team that won 16 games," USC Coach Kevin O'Neill explained. "We're going to be up and down."
Of course, it didn't help USC's chances that the Horned Frogs (5-2) played like a Big East Conference team, which they'll be in 2012 after Monday's news that TCU will be moving from the Mountain West Conference to the Big East.
They offered plenty of wild dunks, strong guard play and hustle to mark the occasion. USC (4-4) offered little.
Early in the game, the Horned Frogs jumped out to a nine-point lead, but the Trojans took it with an 8-0 run.
But then TCU responded with a back-breaking 17-2 run that spanned both halves and handed the Trojans their third loss in the four games they played as part of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament.
Dating to last season, USC lost its fifth consecutive road game, and 11th of 13 overall.
"We don't have a defensive mentality right now," O'Neill said, "and unfortunately we believe we don't need a defensive mentality — and because of that, we can't win on the road let alone win at home."
USC's woes, home and away, result from inconsistent play, whether from their backcourt or front line.
Mistakes also are playing a role, such as the two blown layups in the first half by Maurice Jones.
The Daniel-Meyer Coliseum offered a spirited crowd and friendly rims, at least for TCU.
For instance, with 10 minutes 30 seconds left in the second half, TCU forward Amric Fields' three-point jumper hit the rim, bounced high above the backboard and dropped in, giving theHorned Frogs a 60-47 lead.
That one didn't secure the win. It merely cemented the night.
"We should've beat them," Maurice Jones said.
"Bad plays, no execution, no defense."
USC couldn't connect from beyond the arc either, shooting four for 17, including two for 12 in the second half, or from the free-throw line, shooting 11 for 23.
"I feel like we're together," Bryce Jones said. "I just feel like there are stretches where we're not as together as we should be."
Forwards Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson led USC with 16 and 14 points, respectively. They each grabbed 10 rebounds, but USC was outrebounded for only the second time this season, 40-33.
TCU guard Ronnie Moss led the Horned Frogs with 20 points.
And so ends USC's season-opening eight-games-in-17-days marathon, its most games in such a stretch since the 1983-84 season. That team finished 17-11.
"What really hurts is in those four losses, we lost two we could've won," said Vucevic, speaking of the defeats to Bradley and Nebraska by a combined three points.
The Trojans get a five-day breather before the Texas Longhorns and former Compton Dominguez star Jordan Hamilton roll into the Galen Center on Sunday.