USC Faces UNLV In Diamond Head Classic Finals

Dec. 24, 2009

HONOLULU, HAWAII -- The USC Trojans (7-4) will face the No. 27/No. 20 UNLV Running Rebels (12-1) in the finals of the inaugural Diamond Head Classic on Dec. 25 at 6:30 p.m. (PT) being held at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, Hi. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2 with Jon Sciambi and Doug Gottlieb calling the action. It will also be offered on a delayed basis on USCTrojans.com. The game will air live on USC radio flagship sister station KLAA 830 AM with Rory Markas and Jim Hefner calling the action. Dating back to the 1928 season when such records were kept, the only other time USC played on Christmas was in 1946, a 63-61 loss to Bradley. USC has won its last five games; its season high last season was 6 straight wins.

NEXT ON THE CHRISTMAS LIST...UNLV -- UNLV (12-1) has also won five consecutive games and reached the finals by defeating Hawaii, 77-53 on Dec. 23. The Running Rebels have been led in scoring by junior guard Tre'Von Willis (15.4 ppg) and sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield (10.7 ppg). UNLV has forced the opposition into 18.4 turnovers per game. USC leads the all-time series with UNLV 4-3, but lost the last meeting 92-83 (OT) on Dec. 3, 2003 in Los Angeles, despite leading in regulation by 7 points with just over a minute to go. Ironically, the next team USC played that year was Saint Mary's, the team USC defeated to set up this matchup.

USC BEATS SMC, EYES THE BIG GIFT UNDER THE TREE -- USC held one of the nation's top scoring teams Saint Mary's to 30.2 percent shooting and won 60-49 on Dec. 23 to advance to the Diamond Head Classic finals. Mike Gerrity led the Trojans with 17 points and Nikola Vucevic added 15 points and seven rebounds. USC was held scoreless for the first five minutes, but took the lead for good on a Marcus Johnson basket with 11:09 left in the first half. USC led by 10 at the half and built the lead to 17, but SMC made a run to get it to 47-43 with 4:48 left. Gerrity drained a 3-pointer on USC's next trip down the floor and USC finished the game on a 13-6 run for the win. SMC scored 19 points fewer than its previous season low.

IT IS ALWAYS LIKE CHRISTMAS IN HAWAII -- USC is playing in its sixth tournament in Hawaii since the 1975-76 season and has posted an 11-6 record, winning the Rainbow Classic in the 1975-76 season. USC last played in Hawaii in the 2004-05 season at the Rainbow Classic and fell to host Hawaii in the finals, 72-68. This trip is a homecoming for assistant coach Gib Arnold who played his high school basketball at Punahou High (same high school as President Barack Obama) where Arnold earned Hawaii's Gatorade Player of the Year honors.

TROJANS PLAY THE ROLL OF SCROOGE ON DEFENSE -- USC enters the game having allowed 620 points in its first 11 games (56.4 ppg), its fewest through 11 games since allowing 616 points in the first 11 games of the 1954-55 season. USC has held its last five opponents to 55 points or less and seven times in 11 games this season.

ON THE 10TH DAY OF CHRISTMAS COMPLIANCE GAVE TO ME... -- Forward Leonard Washington played in his first game of the season on Dec. 23 after missing the first semester with academic issues and had an immediate impact. He scored 10 points, had six rebounds, two assists, two blocks, an assist and a partridge in a pear tree (okay got carried away). Washington was fifth in scoring for USC as a freshman with a 6.1 average in 30 games, 13 starts. He scored in double figures six times last season with a high of 17 vs. North Dakota State on Dec. 20, 2008.

THE JOLLY ONE STEERING THE USC SLEIGH -- Kevin O'Neill was named the USC head coach on June 20, 2009 and brings 13 years of collegiate and NBA head coaching experience to the program. He has worked in the coaching ranks for 30 years and spent the 2008-09 season as a special assistant to the general manager of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies. He has served as a collegiate head coach at Marquette (1990-94), Tennessee (1995-97), Northwestern (1998-00), Arizona (2008) and USC (7-4). He also was the NBA's Toronto Raptors' head coach in 2004. O'Neill has compiled a 178-184 career mark as a collegiate head coach, despite for the most part taking over programs that were rebuilding. When he served as an assistant at Arizona under Lute Olson from 1987-89, the Wildcats went 82-19 and went to the Final Four one season. He was named Olson's successor for the 2008 season and guided Arizona to a 19-15 record and into the NCAA Tournament despite four of its top five players being freshmen or sophomores. In six of his 12 seasons as a college head coach, he has guided his teams into the postseason. USC's victory in his first game on Nov. 17 vs. UCR was the first by a USC head basketball coach in his debut since Stan Morrison won in 1979.

THE TROJANS' OWN SAINT NIK -- Sophomore forward Nikola Vucevic already has five double-doubles in his first 11 games this season to lead all Pac-10 players and more than DeMar DeRozan had last year in his phenomenal freshman season. Vucevic had 15 points and 10 rebounds vs. Tennessee on Dec. 19 for his fifth double-double. He had 14 points and posted a career-high 15 rebounds on Dec. 8 vs. Sac. State, a career-high 19 points and 11 rebounds vs. LMU on Nov. 21, 15 points and 12 rebounds vs. Coppin St. on Nov. 27 and 18 points and 14 rebounds at Texas on Dec. 3. Through 10 games he is averaging 13.5 points and 10.1 rebounds, after averaging 2.6 points and 2.7 rebounds as a freshman last season. His 10.1 rebounds per game leads all Pac-10 players.

THE GIFT OF A 2ND SENIOR SEASON -- USC redshirt senior guard/forward Marcus Johnson, who played the second semester last season after transferring to USC from UConn, was granted another year of eligibilty by the NCAA following the season, but penalized two games for playing in an exhibition game in the 2007-08 season. USC is 19-7 in games he has been available to play in the two seasons. In his first game this season on Nov. 27 vs. CSU, Johnson had 11 points, three rebounds and a steal. He had his Trojan highs of 12 points and 4 steals at Georgia Tech on Dec. 5. He then matched career highs with 8 rebounds and 3 blocks, while scoring 7 points vs. Sac. State on Dec. 8. Johnson leads USC with 17 steals and is third in rebounds with 51 and blocks with eight.

SIMMONS PROVES NICE, NOT NAUGHTY -- Junior guard Marcus Simmons has averaged 4.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in USC's first 11 games. He developed into USC's defensive stopper late last season and spent the summer working on his offense, including shooting until he made 1,000 shots a day...that is until his wrist started hurting and he had to back off some. It seems to have worked, though, as he is shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 85.7 percent from the free throw line.

ON DONTE, ON BLITZEN... -- Junior guard Donte Smith has averaged 6.1 points through USC's first 11 games and leads USC with 12 three-pointers made (12-for-35, 34.3 percent), as many as he made all last season. In the game vs. Nebraska on Nov. 29, Smith was 4-for-4 from the field, including hitting two three-pointers. Smith came off the bench to scored six big points down the stretch in USC's 55-51 win vs. Western Michigan on Dec. 22. He started at point guard the first eight games.

FACING THE BEST -- USC's 2009-10 schedule features 12 games against teams that were in the NCAA Tournament last season and another 10 games against teams which were in either the NIT or CBI tournaments, meaning 22 of 30 games against teams that played in the 2009 postseason and 23 of 30 against teams that posted a .500 or better record. Including today's game vs. UNLV, USC's opponents have a combined 90-49 record this season (64.7 winning percentage).

GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO WAIT -- Alex Stepheson showed signs he is shaking off the rust of more than a year away from game action, as he scored a career-high 22 points at Georgia Tech on Dec. 5 and then had 10 points, 10 rebounds and 7 blocks vs. Sacramento State on Dec. 8 for his second career double-double. Stepheson then had his third career double-double vs. Idaho State on Dec. 11 with 16 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. In the last game vs. Tennessee on Dec. 19, Stepheson had 19 points and a new career high with 15 rebounds to earn Pac-10 Player of the Week honors for the week of Dec. 13-19. He played in his first game as a Trojan on Nov. 27 vs. Coppin State and registered his first career double-double on Nov. 29 vs. Nebraska with 13 points and a then career-best 12 rebounds. In his first nine games, he has averaged 11.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game.

THE FIRST GIFT OF THE SEASON -- What is not to like for Trojan fans as the senior has played three games, leading USC to a 77-55 upset of No. 9 Tennessee on Dec. 19 and then scoring 15 of his team-high 17 points after halftime to help USC to a 55-51 comeback victory over Western Michigan on Dec. 22. Gerryty followed that up with a team-high 17 points including hitting a key three-pointer late in the game in the semifinals win vs. Saint Mary's on Dec. 23. He has averaged 15.3 points, 4.7 assists and 4.0 rebounds in the first three games. His 10 assists vs. Tennessee were the most by a Trojan since Daniel Hackett had 13 on Dec. 4, 2008 at Oklahoma. He has 14 assists and 10 turnovers, the only Trojan with a positive assist to turnover ratio.

SOME TIMES YOU HAVE TO TAKE WHAT YOU WANT -- Sophomore Nikola Vucevic (10.1) and junior Alex Stepheson (9.2) entered the week as the top two rebounders in the Pac-10. Through games of Dec. 20, they ranked tied for No. 18 and No. 22 respectively in the country in rebounding and USC is the only team with two players ranking in the top 50.

LEWIS CLIMBING UP THE TROJANS' SCORING TREE -- Senior Dwight Lewis has scored 1,182 career points, 21st all-time at USC and 22 points behind Maurice Williams (1979-82) who is in 20th place with 1,204. Lewis entered the season fifth among returning Pac-10 players in career points. He also ranks 14th on USC's all-time three-point baskets list with 117 which ranks eighth among returning conference players and two behind Adam Spanich (1998-99) who ranks 13th on USC's all-time list. Lewis led USC with a 14.4 scoring average in 2008-09, as well in three-point baskets (55) and free throw shooting (74.8 percent). He reached double figures in scoring in 27 of his 33 games last season, scoring a career-high 26 twice (vs. San Francisco on Dec. 1 and at Oregon on Jan. 2). He scored 22 points vs. UCR on Nov. 17 and 21 vs. Tennesse on Dec. 19 and has had 11 career 20-point games.

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS NO TURNOVERS -- USC has 181 turnovers through 11 games (16.5 per game), three less than it had through 11 games last season (184). That team averaged 16.8 turnovers in the first 12 games, then averaged 12.4 over the final 23 contests en route to a 22-13 season.

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