USC guard Donte Smith (14) and forward Nikola Vucevic (5) pressure Oregon… (Steve Dykes / Getty Images )
The Trojans move onward and upward, then backward and downward.
It's their trend this season. They've had five two-game winning streaks, but none longer.
Three of those streaks were followed by two-game losing streaks.
The problem may well be that USC (11-8, 3-3 in the Pacific 10 Conference) simply doesn't know how to handle success.
The numbers indicate so, and USC Coach Kevin O'Neill agrees.
"Most teams like us, who in my mind have a low margin for error, don't handle success very well," he said of the Trojans, who face California (9-9, 2-4) at the Galen Center on Saturday night.
His players don't disagree, saying their recent ranked wins over Texas and Tennessee, near wins over Kansas and Washington and fourth straight win over UCLA led to their two losses in Oregon.
"We thought, 'OK, we beat Texas, we beat Tennessee, we had a close game at Kansas, and Oregon and Oregon State are not as good and we should be able to beat them," junior forward Nikola Vucevic said.
"But that was a lesson: Anybody can beat anybody."
Echoing that, freshman guard Maurice Jones said USC's recent successes made the team complacent.
"We were happy just to get a few big wins under our belt," Jones said, "and once we beat those good teams, we felt we were kind of good and we stopped playing the way we should have, the way we got those wins."
Which is defense.
USC is 10-1 when limiting its opponent to 40% field-goal shooting or worse, the latest such victory a 65-42 blowout of Stanford on Thursday, when USC held the Cardinal to 22.2% shooting from the field.
In that game, Stanford scored its fewest points in the matchup since 1948, when USC won, 46-34.
And USC nearly broke its school record for the lowest field-goal percentage by an opponent — 19.2%, set against Oregon State in 1955.
O'Neill hopes his players can maintain the defensive effort they showcased against Stanford when the Trojans face California, a team sure to be fiery after a last-second loss at UCLA on Thursday.
If the USC players can handle the success of their Stanford win, that is.
"It's imperative we play with the same focus and intensity," O'Neill said, adding, "If we don't play defense, we don't win."
Simmons on Crabbe
Up next for USC senior guard and defensive specialist Marcus Simmons is California freshman guard Allen Crabbe.
Crabbe comes from the Los Angeles Price, a small, kindergarten-through-12th-grade school in the sprawling Crenshaw Christian Center, but his play this season has been beyond big.
The 6-foot-6, 205-pound guard is averaging 11.4 points — and he's improved his play in six conference games, in which he's averaging 17.3.
There were reports Friday that former USC freshman guard Bryce Jones had decided to transfer to San Diego State, but his high school coach, Woodland Hills Taft's Derrick Taylor, said he spoke with Jones and said that's incorrect. "A decision will be made Sunday night," Taylor said. … USC's win over Stanford was the Trojans' third victory by 20 or more points this season. The Trojans have had 24 such wins in the past five seasons.