USC Tough Despite Coaching Change

EUGENE, Ore.,- Monday brought the acknowledgment that the Oregon basketball team had been waiting on for over five years, an Associated Press top-25 ranking.

EUGENE, Ore.,- Monday brought the acknowledgment that the Oregon basketball team had been waiting on for over five years, an Associated Press top-25 ranking.

Without such ranking since 2007, the news brought a sense of validation, an accomplishment that no current player had reached in their collegiate careers, but also added motivation, to stay among the nation's elite.

"It's great, I'm happy, but we've still got a lot of work to do. We've still got a lot of goals to accomplish. We're happy, but we're not satisfied," said senior forward E.J. Singler.

Singler, an Oregon-native, is perhaps the most enveloped in the program's rise. In his fourth and final year as a member of the Oregon basketball team, the recognition is not only special individually, but for the program past and future.

"I like that we're kind of bringing back the program, making it heard again, like in the history of Oregon basketball. Growing up as a fan of Oregon basketball and being from Oregon, it really means a lot to me," he said.

While Monday supplied a rare feat for the Oregon basketball program, it also brought an even rarer one to the USC program, a mid-season coaching change, brought on amidst a surging team.

Head coach Kevin O'Neill was fired Monday, just two days removed from a 17-point road victory over Utah. The victory was his second in the conference this season, but also his last with the Trojans. O'Neill was in his fourth year as head coach and despite an NCAA tournament berth in 2011, had led the program to a one-win Pac-12 season a year ago. O'Neill will be replaced by associate head coach Bob Cantu.

"I really like Kevin. I've known him for almost 30 years. He's been really good to me over the years. I feel bad for him," Altman said.

The timing of the termination provides an unpredictable opponent for the Ducks, one that might be either ignited by or deflated by change.

"They've got to be really focused. But hopefully they're not, so we can get the win," Singler said.

"If they're fired up, they're fired up. If they change things, they change things. We've just got to find a way to play hard for two hours," Altman said.

Altman's concern for Cantu implementing new principles is low, as they can't "change everything in three days," he says. But even if the Trojans bring new looks, he is optimistic his team will be prepared.

"It's mid-January, we've seen zones, we've seen presses, we've seen a lot of things. I think we'll be prepared," he said.

One thing that is certain not to change is the personnel. Which makes learning the Trojan players' tendencies, strengths and matchups that much important, Singler says.

O'Neill had settled on an eight-man rotation before his departure, settling on a guard-oriented rotation that shuffled in seven-footers DeWayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby.

Guards J.T. Terell, Eric Wise and Byron Wesley are their chief scorers, but none average more than 12 points per game.

That is not atypical of how O'Neill's scoring distribution had been in the past, whether or not that will change under Cantu, no one knows. But, what is quite clear, is that Thursday's game will be of the upmost importance for the upstart Ducks.

"Any game in the Pac-12 is going to be tough for us, especially on the road. We've just got to prepare for each one as they come. USC is going to be just as tough as UCLA, I think," Singler said.

The Ducks and Trojans face off on Thursday at 8 p.m., in the Galen Center. The game will be televised on ESPNU, with Roxie Bernstien and Miles Simon on the call.

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