USC freshmen Bryce Jones, left, and Garrett Jackson, right, challenge… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
Guard Bryce Jones and forward Garrett Jackson are neither gone nor forgotten freshmen at USC, even though both have all but disappeared from the lineup after impressive starts.
Jones started USC's first 10 games and averaged 11.2 points in 28.1 minutes. But he has come off the bench in the last five games, averaging only 3.2 points in 12.2 minutes.
Jackson hardly played in USC's first three games. But in the next five, he averaged 8.4 points in 16.6 minutes. Since, he has scored a total of four points and averaged 6.3 minutes. And he didn't play against Washington.
Jones' playing-time decline coincides with the debut of transfer guard Jio Fontan, who became eligible before USC's Dec. 18 game at Kansas. Jackson's, though, is because of poor play.
"We're going to rely on these guys a lot," Coach Kevin O'Neill said. "All they need to do is to make sure they play their minutes hard."
USC is 9-6 overall, 1-1 in Pacific 10 Conference play. The Trojans' next game is Sunday night against UCLA at the Galen Center.
Fontan anticipated that teams would start to figure him out after he played a few games this season.
In his first three games — his first in more than a year — Fontan averaged 16.3 points and earned Pac-10 player-of-the-week honors.
But in the last two, against Washington and Washington State, he began noticing adjustments.
Against Washington, the Huskies denied him the ball and he struggled, scoring 14 points on four-for-14 shooting.
Against Washington State, which played zone defense, he made only four shots, scoring nine points.
Fontan said as much as teams change up how they defend him, he will adjust, too.
"I haven't played a complete game just yet, both ends of the court and two halves," he said. "Once I play a complete game, I'll be able to do more and still throw teams off."
Senior forward Alex Stepheson said after a doctor's visit this week that he expects to start going without the brace he has been wearing on his left hand since it was fractured in USC's season-opening win against UC Irvine on Nov. 13.
Despite that injury, Stepheson hasn't sat out a game and has averaged 33.8 minutes, 10 points and 8.7 rebounds — the second best rebounding figure in the Pac-10 behind teammate Nikola Vucevic (10.0).
O'Neill said he's still interested in how Stepheson will play without the brace, especially because he has played so well with it.
"I hadn't even thought about that," O'Neill said. "That could be an adjustment."