Although USC defenders have San Diego State's Chase Papley trapped… (Lenny Ignelzi / Associated…)
A Las Vegas vacation: USC's basketball team could sure use one. But the Trojans aren't in line for fun.
They're there to face Nevada Las Vegas (5-0) on Friday at Orleans Arena and North Carolina or South Carolina on Saturday.
The trip could be a painful one for USC, which has a 2-3 record because it hasn't been able to win close games.
USC is shooting 62.9% — 66 for 105 — from the free-throw line, which partially explains its three losses, which came after the Trojans had a lead or were tied entering the final two minutes.
"What is really killing us right now is free throws," Coach Kevin O'Neill said.
Then again, crucial defensive lapses in those losses hurt just as much, if not more.
"The No. 1 message we have to send is, we have to be a great defensive team," O'Neill said.
USC is that, giving up 56.6 points per game. But offense is where it's lacking.
USC is averaging 56.4 points, worst in the Pac-12 Conference and tied for 323nd out of 345 Division I teams nationally.
In its 65-62 win against Morgan State, USC got much-needed scoring from three-point specialist Greg Allen, who hit three of five from beyond the arc and scored 14 points off the bench.
Allen played 35 minutes against Morgan State after playing seven in the Trojans' first four games.
O'Neill was impressed enough that he said he might start Allen on Friday.
"If he can make shots, it changes everything we do offensively," O'Neill said.
Specifically, it doesn't allow defenses to focus solely on guard Maurice Jones or clog the lane to slow USC's front line of Dewayne Dedmon, James Blasczyk and Aaron Fuller.
Allen understands the importance of his offense. That's not the end of the court he's worried about.
"I still have a lot to learn on the defensive side," Allen said.
Jones, USC's floor general, said the whole team has a lot to learn about playing early in games.
"We've come out chill and we've been down early," he said.
Dedmon, who scored 16 points in his first game, has 19 total since.
O'Neill has hyped Dedmon as a future NBA lottery pick but now says the pressure of that projection has affected him.
"I stand by what I've said all along," O'Neill said. "It's just going to take some time."
To help, O'Neill has personally worked with Dedmon daily on offensive post moves.
"He needs a lot of work," O'Neill said.
So does USC.