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USC BASKETBALL

USC hopes to upset perception of Pac-12

Conference schools have struggled against ranked teams from other leagues, but the Trojans have had some success in recent years. On Thursday, USC plays host to No. 12 Kansas.

December 21, 2011|By Baxter Holmes
  • USC guard Maurice Jones shoots a three-pointer during win over South Carolina last month. USC hopes to pull off an upset Thursday against Kansas.
USC guard Maurice Jones shoots a three-pointer during win over South Carolina… (Ethan Miller / Getty Images )

In the last three seasons, Pac-12 Conference teams have been thoroughly manhandled by ranked teams from other leagues, winning just nine of the 46 meetings.

But USC is the Pac-12's upset specialist.

Of those nine wins, the Trojans have four, beating Texas, Nevada Las Vegas and Tennessee twice during that stretch when each of those teams were ranked in the Associated Press' top-25 poll.

USC (5-7) hopes to add No. 12 Kansas (7-3) to that list Thursday at the Galen Center, USC's final tune-up before league play starts next week.

"We've had so many opportunities to have big wins and we've lost them at the last second, so this would definitely help us a lot going into conference play," Trojans junior forward Aaron Fuller said.

USC has lost five games by seven points or fewer this season; four at home.

"We need a signature win," USC Coach Kevin O'Neill said.

There is a method to how USC has earned them during O'Neill's three-season tenure.

• Get to the free-throw line: USC has averaged about 27 attempts in those four upsets, making about 20 each game.

• Be efficient on offense: On average, the Trojans shot 49% in those games.

• Play great defense: Those teams averaged about 58 points against USC, well below their season averages.

"Those are the keys for us," O'Neill said.

Kansas is playing in its first true road game this season and is coming off an 80-74 loss Monday to Davidson.

"So, they're going to be [angry]," O'Neill said.

For USC, playing great defense shouldn't be an issue as O'Neill has stressed it since he took over.

This season, USC is 11th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 55.4 points per game as it prepares to face a Kansas team that averages 75.3 points.

USC scores just about as many points as it allows (56.6), earning the Trojans a national ranking of 318, clearly near the bottom.

The Trojans scored a season-high 83 points in a win Monday against Texas Christian, a performance in which they played with what O'Neill called "force."

That means attacking the basket throughout the game and not turning down open shots.

"We just need to be aggressive," said guard Maurice Jones, USC's leading scorer at 15.6 points per game.

On defense, USC will need to do the same against Kansas forward Thomas Robinson, who averages team highs in points (18.1) and rebounds (12.2).

"He's very athletic, a big presence down there, an aggressive scorer," Fuller said. "It's going to take a team effort to stop him."

USC nearly stopped Kansas last season, losing 70-68 in Lawrence, Kan.

But a payback win, and another upset notch for their scrapbook, could help heal the Trojans' slow start.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

twitter.com/baxterholmes

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