One-handed Stepheson helps Trojans get to 2-0

Playing with a broken hand, Stepheson does the little things as USC defeats Santa Clara, 86-73.

USC entered this season with one of the Pac-10's premier frontlines, but with little depth behind forwards Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic, everyone knew they had to stay out of foul trouble.

Injuries were never discussed.

Maybe they should have been. Stepheson broke his left hand in the Trojans' opener against UC Irvine and played Monday night against Santa Clara with a soft wrap on it.

Fortunately, Vucevic and freshman guard Maurice Jones were there to pick up the slack as USC pulled away late for a 86-73 win over the Broncos at Galen Center.

Jones scored 29 points and had five assists for the Trojans (2-0) in just his second college game, Vucevic added 22 points and 11 rebounds, but it was Stepheson that head coach Kevin O'Neill praised.

"How many ball screens did he set for Mo and how many plays did he make possible? He really gave himself up for the team in what I think is a really courageous effort," he said.

Stepheson, the former Harvard-Westlake standout, made all three of his shots along with seven rebounds after finding out at 1:30 p.m. he broke his hand.

"He texted me and said he was playing. I texted him back and said, ‘You're damn right you are,'" O'Neill said.

"We were just wondering if he was going to be able to play tonight," Jones said. "Even if he was going to be able to play tonight, maybe if we should let him play so we have him tomorrow. Even with one hand, Al played the whole game."

The redshirt senior said he would wear a hard cast between games as the injury heals over the next two to three weeks but shouldn't miss any time.

Stepheson struggled early, fumbling several would-be rebounds, but settled into a groove as the game went along.

"It definitely was difficult to catch the ball, get rebounds, to do things that you would normally do with your left hand. I couldn't do it," he said.

"I tried to get as many rebounds as I could. If I couldn't get it, tip it to a teammate. Just to play good defense and be a good teammate and just to set other people up out there. I'm going to try and do the little things and have a big presence."

That presence usually consisted of finding ways to let Jones do his thing.

The undersized freshman, listed at 5-foot-7, had the ball in his hands for most of the game, playing all 40 minutes alongside Vucevic and Stepheson. Jones frequently gashed the Broncos (1-1) on pick-and-rolls, so O'Neill kept calling them.

"That looked like a high school rerun to me," he said. "It's not a fluke he makes these plays."

Asked if it indeed felt like playing at Saginaw (Mich.) Arthur Hills, Jones said, "It felt like a regular game to me.

"I still have to pace myself through the game. I played the whole game and I still got to turn it up on the defensive end and get everyone involved," said Jones, who was 10 of 20 from the field.

Fellow freshmen Bryce Jones and Garrett Jackson also played well. Jones scored 15 points, while Jackson came in for 14 minutes off the bench with guards Marcus Simmons and Donte Smith in foul trouble with four apiece.

Said O'Neill: "It was evident tonight we got someone who can run the team, we got some freshmen that can play and compete at a pretty high level and we got two guys in Nik and Al that will play 40 minutes and play their asses off and give you a chance to win." Top Stories