Surging USC putting it together at right time

Stepheson and Vucevic post double-doubles in home finale romp over Arizona State.

For a team for whom the postseason seemed like the longest of long shots entering this week, USC sure is a confident bunch.

"We're not thinking about the NIT. We're thinking about the NCAA Tournament," senior guard Donte Smith said.

"As a team, we're hitting our peak. We're playing lockdown defense and great offense. We have our momentum, all our confidence going, we should be all right."

The Trojans continued their late-season surge by crushing hapless Arizona State, 62-46, Saturday afternoon at Galen Center.

The 16-point rout was the fourth-straight win for USC (17-12, 9-7 Pac-10) and fifth in its last six games.

"This was the right time to make a run. I think if we keep getting wins, we can make the NCAA Tournament," forward Nikola Vucevic said.

"We're fighting for our lives. We know that," USC coach Kevin O'Neill said.

Vucevic again led the way with a game-high 20 in what might have been his final home appearance, as the junior could declare for the NBA Draft after a breakthrough junior season. He added 10 rebounds for his 18th double-double of the season, fifth-best in the nation.

The student section even went so far as to chant "one more year" during a first-half trip to the free throw line.

"The SC students are smart, you saw that," O'Neill joked.

"It's nice to hear that. It shows your work pays off and people recognize what you do," said Vucevic, who declined to shed any light on his future plans.

Alex Stepheson had 15 points and 10 rebounds for his 10th double-double and Smith, held scoreless in the upset of No. 10 Arizona on Thursday night, added 12 points.

Stepheson admitted the emotions of Senior Day, which included a video presentation and introduction of four players – Stepheson, Smith, guard Marcus Simmons and walk-on James Dunleavy – for the last time, got to him.

"I was kind of sad actually when it started out," Stepheson said. "Once we got over the video and got into the game, I got right into the game, zoned in and went from there."

O'Neill was effusive in his praise for a senior class that had to deal with coaching change, sanctions self-imposed by the university that kept the team from playing in the postseason last year and a depleted roster.

"What those guys have endured the last few years says a lot about them, and I'm including Dunleavy in that group," O'Neill said. "I'm really happy for our seniors that they were able to win today. I'm really happy for them that they all played well and I really appreciate their efforts over the last two years."

USC has now won 14 of its last 15 home finales.

In contrast to the surging Trojans, Arizona State (10-18, 2-14 Pac-10) has now lost 13 of its last 14 games.

The Sun Devils, who have not won a road game since December, were 3 of 14 from the three-point line and shot 30.6 percent from the field.

"Tonight was not a case of players not giving a solid effort. Nobody was out there not trying. For us to win on the road we would have had to play near-perfect ball," Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said.

The Trojans close out the regular season next week at Washington State and Washington.

"If we get seven of eight, I'll be the happiest camper alive," O'Neill said. "We got to be cautious to take it one game at a time (but) we're playing well. We're playing together."


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