USC players (from left to right) Alex Stepheson, Jio Fontan, Maurice Jones,… (Kirby Lee / U.S. Presswire )
The USC players woke up still sore in their downtown San Francisco hotel last Friday, one day removed from beating California in Berkeley.
Then they heard the best news anyone in that position can hear: Go back to bed; you have the day off.
USC Coach Kevin O'Neill rested his players specifically because they had been struggling on Saturdays, their 15-12 overall record marred by seven losses this season on that day.
The Trojans typically use just seven players, and playing a second game in three days during the conference season seemed to be too much to ask.
"We had to do something," O'Neill said Tuesday.
He had thought about giving his players Fridays off for weeks, but hadn't done it. "The coach in me wouldn't let me do it," he said.
But he finally did. He saw his players twice, only briefly. Most slept all day. "I only got up to eat," junior guard Jio Fontan said.
The next day, they had a short walk-through at a nearby high school and then drove about an hour south to Stanford's Maples Pavilion, where they had lost eight straight games.
That streak ended, as USC won, 69-53.
"It helped us," senior guard Donte Smith said of the rest.
The players said they were fresher physically and also mentally, which freshman guard Maurice Jones said was "almost as important as the physical part because half the game you have to think."
O'Neill said he is pondering whether to spare his players from practicing on the day before a game from here on out.
On Wednesday, the day before the Trojans play host to No. 10 Arizona (23-4), USC will still do some light work. There will be a morning stretch and a 30-minute walk-though in the afternoon.
That's it, though.
O'Neill said Fontan was too sick to play against California last Thursday and should have been held out of the game.
Fontan, who shot one for 10 in 31 minutes, said he had the flu and had lapses when he said he may have blacked out.
"Like being to a point where you're not able to see and then seeing someone coming at you," he recalled. "Going from one scene to another without knowing what happened in between was kind of scary."
He said he was fine against Stanford on Saturday, when he had eight points and seven assists.