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Nikola Vucevic sets tone in Trojans' victory

Junior forward has 20 points and 10 rebounds as USC wins its fourth in a row and for the fifth time in six games.

February 26, 2011|By Baxter Holmes
  • USC junior forward Nikola Vucevic, shown during a Pac-10 game against Washington earlier this season, led the Trojans to a victory against Arizona State on Saturday with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
USC junior forward Nikola Vucevic, shown during a Pac-10 game against Washington… (Gary A. Vasquez / US Presswire )

Borislav Vucevic watched from Section 111 at the Galen Center on Saturday.

It was the second time he had seen his son Nikola play college basketball.

But for the 6,621 who watched the Trojans junior forward deliver a routine 20 points and 10 rebounds in a 62-46 Senior Day rout of Arizona State, it might have been the last time — at least at home.

If Vucevic becomes an early departure to the NBA, that is.

His jumping-off point might be whether he will be selected in the first round, but because the NBA faces its weakest draft class in nearly a decade, the 6-foot-10 Montenegro native should be a first-round pick sooner rather than later.

Surely knowing this, USC students chanted for "one more year" in the first half when Vucevic went to the free-throw line.

"USC has smart students," Trojans Coach Kevin O'Neill joked afterward.

What would Vucevic say to the students' request?

"The only answer they want is for me to come back," he said.

Touche. Apparently, USC students are pretty smart.

But will he?

"I haven't given any thought to it," he said.

Of the chanting, Borislav Vucevic, who played 24 years of professional basketball in Europe, added, "That was very nice, but he'll make a decision after the year."

That decision might be put on hold if USC (17-12, 9-7 Pacific 10 Conference) keeps winning. The Trojans have won five of six and a season-high four in a row with two conference games left.

"We're not thinking about the NIT," senior guard Donte Smith said. "We're thinking about the NCAA tournament."

USC probably needs to win its remaining conference games and win at least two games in the Pac-10 tournament to be in that discussion.

"They're certainly good enough to be an NCAA team," Arizona State Coach Herb Sendek said. "The Pac-10 doesn't get enough credit and they aren't getting enough credit."

Arizona State (10-18, 2-14) did offer USC a trap since the Trojans went from beating the team with the league's best record (Arizona) on Thursday to facing the team with the league's worst mark two days later.

But USC dodged that trap by a mile.

The Trojans trailed 5-0 early, then knocked Arizona out with a 38-13 run to close the first half.

After halftime, it was more of the same. By the time Arizona State was 26 points behind, USC's student section chanted for seldom-used senior James Dunleavy be put in. He was; he missed his only shot.

Still, it was a nice sendoff for four USC seniors in their final home game.

Forward Alex Stepheson had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Smith scored 12 points and guard Marcus Simmons held Arizona State's Ty Abbott to one point, far from Abbott's 12.6 average.

"If Marcus Simmons isn't the defensive player of the year in the conference, I don't know who is," O'Neill said.

USC's defense performed to its usual high standard, holding Arizona State to 30.6% shooting from the field. The Trojans are 12-0 this season when holding teams to fewer than 60 points.

"As a team," Smith said, "we're hitting our peak right now."

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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