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USC defense, turnover margin could be key against Stanford

Last-place USC's few strengths — scoring defense and turnover margins — could play well against a recently struggling Stanford Cardinal on Sunday at the Galen Center.

February 11, 2012|By Gary Klein
  • USC Coach Kevin O'Neill talks to guard Greg Allen during a game against Colorado last month. O'Neill wants to see a strong, full-game effort on the defense when the Trojans play Stanford.
USC Coach Kevin O'Neill talks to guard Greg Allen during a game against… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)

Despite the numerous problems USC has experienced this season, the Trojans can still cling to a couple points of pride: Last-place USC ranks at the top of the Pac-12 Conference in scoring defense and turnover margin.

USC hopes to translate that status into a victory at the Galen Center on Sunday against Stanford.

USC could not contain the offensive firepower of Washington and California in its last two games. But recently struggling Stanford — which committed 22 turnovers against UCLA — might offer the Trojans a realistic opportunity to win for only the second time since December.

USC is coming off a 75-49 loss to Cal, a defeat that dropped USC to 6-19 overall and 1-11 in Pac-12 play.

The Trojans hung with the Golden Bears in the first half but could not keep up with Cal after USC guard Maurice Jones was sidelined for about seven minutes because of a cut on his wrist.

Coach Kevin O'Neill sees a pattern developing.

"When things don't go our way, we kind of let down on the defensive end," he said. "We've given in a little bit at eight or 10 minutes a crack."

USC is limiting opponents to 59 points a game.

But the Trojans are averaging a conference-worst 53.8 points a game. They also are at the bottom in field-goal percentage (40%), three-point shooting (28%) and free-throw shooting (60%).

Stanford, meantime, has lost five of its last six games.

Thursday's 72-61 loss to UCLA dropped the Cardinal to 16-8 and 6-6 in conference play.

Stanford defeated the Trojans, 51-43, on Dec. 31 at Palo Alto.

The Cardinal's slide began three weeks later with losses at Washington State, Washington and Cal. Stanford routed Arizona State, but then lost to Arizona and UCLA.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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