Eric Wise hit a three-pointer to start the game. Dewayne Dedmon rattled the rim on a slam dunk courtesy of a perfect pass from Jio Fontan. Freshman Brendyn Taylor scored his first points of the season when he made a three-pointer.
By halftime USC led UC Riverside by 27 points and playing the second half seemed unnecessary.
And, yes, the Trojans ended their five-game losing streak with a 70-26 win over the Highlanders Saturday at the Galen Center. The second half wasn't necessary.
USC (4-6) was led in scoring by Fontan and Wise, who each had 14 points. And that 28 would have been more than enough for the win. UC Riverside (2-8) also had co-leading scorers. Chris Harriel and Chris Patton each had six points.
"I loved how our front line played tonight," USC Coach Kevin O'Neill said. "I loved how we rebounded the ball, how we shared it, made things happen.
"We know it's not Minnesota, we understand that. But I give our guys credit for playing hard."
Minnesota was one of the five nationally ranked teams the Trojans had lost to this season.
The Highlanders aren't close to those teams, but it was still an accomplishment, O'Neill said, to play the kind of defense that led to UC Riverside's 19% shooting from the field (11-of-58) and 47-31 rebounding advantage.
The 19% field goal percentage is the lowest in school history. The previous low was the 19.2% shot by Oregon State in 1954.
The Highlanders made only five field goals in the first half and they didn't make their first of the second half until there was only five minutes, 36 seconds left and Chris Harriel hit a three-pointer. It seemed nearly everyone in the building cheered that basket.
"We went through a tough stretch," O'Neill said. "We went back to basics, to things we can't compromise. We're going to play the right way from now on."
Highlanders Coach Jim Wooldridge said, "We couldn't make a shot, make a free throw. So it was just all around a poor effort. Bad execution. Bad coaching. We knew USC would give us trouble, especially inside with their size, but I thought I had prepared us well enough to compete. We just lost our confidence."
The Trojans overflowed with confidence. They outscored the Highlanders 27-3 from three-point range. In their three previous games, all losses, the Trojans had been outscored 84-27 from three-point range. Forward Dewayne Dedmon had a career-high six blocked shots.
"This gives us something to smile about," Fontan said. "We haven't been able to smile for a while."
It was Fontan's best overall performance this year. He missed all of last season with a knee injury, and O'Neill said, "Jio looked the most confident he's been since his injury. Once he hits his stride, we'll be fine."
Fontan's 14 points on five-of-six shooting, his six assists and only a single turnover in 28 minutes indicates his stride has arrived.