Minnesota Trevor Mbakwe blocks a shot by Southern California's Aaron… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
USC played from behind from the start Thursday night.
Michael Wilder, a 6-foot-2 forward for UC Irvine whose old-school high-in-the-air hair accounts for a least two inches, made an immediate impact with his three-point basket and from there the Anteaters went on to a 61-54 victory over the Trojans at the Galen Center.
After Wilder gave the Anteaters a 3-0 advantage, the Trojans (4-7) led only once, 4-3, on an Eric Wise layup.
The Anteaters (6-7) had taken UCLA into overtime last month before losing by a point. They weren't taking any chances in this game.
USC Coach Kevin O'Neill said, "They played great, they deserved to win the game. I was really disappointed with our effort defensively to start the game."
O'Neill also pointed to 16 turnovers by the Trojans as a major disappointment.
"We're searching," O'Neill said. "When you turn the ball over so many times and at key times get beat down the floor … that's unforgivable. Ultimately that's on me. I'm the coach."
Daman Starring ended up scoring a game-high 23 points to lead the Anteaters. Center Omar Oraby, with 12 points, led the Trojans
Chris McNealy made a layup at the buzzer to give UC Irvine a 37-25 halftime lead. The Anteaters closed out the first 20 minutes with a 20-8 run and the largest lead of the half came on that final layup.
USC's co-leading scorer, J.T. Terrell, who had only played one minute against UC Riverside last Saturday, didn't play a minute in the first half against the Anteaters. After starting the first nine games of the season, this was the second straight game Terrell was on the bench at the start.
The Trojans had pulled into a 17-17 tie on an Aaron Fuller layup with 8:42 left in the first half. But not much went right for USC in the rest of the half, or the game.
The Anteaters built that halftime lead by making half of their shots (15 of 30 from the field) and by being careful with the basketball (only three turnovers).
Alex Young opened the second half with a layup for UC Irvine, increasing the lead to 39-25. With the Anteaters still ahead, 44-34, Terrell made his first appearance with 15:04 left. But Terrell couldn't give the Trojans enough of a spark.
Terrell did score for the first time in two games. He made a three-pointer that drew his team within 54-47 and he made another three-pointer with four minutes left to draw USC within 57-52.
The Trojans could never get any closer.
"It's hard to keep digging yourselves a hole," said Wise, who began his career at UC Irvine before he transferred to USC. "You can't always be coming from behind."