New USC coach Kevin O'Neill appears to have received his holiday wish.
"I hope we're a different team. I think we will be," he said recently, when asked to project how the infusion of Mike Gerrity and Leonard Washington could impact the Trojans.
Well, meet the new Trojans: Once 2-4, they will take a six-game winning streak into the Pac-10 after sweeping through to the championship of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.
USC (8-4) beat UNLV 67-56 in the title game on Christmas Day and Gerrity, now the starting point guard, won MVP honors. USC is 4-0 since Gerrity became eligible as a transfer from Charlotte, and he is contributing 14.8 points and 4.3 assists per game, as well as much-needed stability as the floor leader.
Washington, who missed the first eight games, provided 9.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game since becoming academically eligible.
In the less-than-imposing Pac-10, are the Trojans suddenly a player?
They enter conference play having defeated Tennessee, Saint Mary's and UNLV in their past four outings.
Their severe depth problem is somewhat better, they have leadership on the floor and their scoring has improved.
USC appears to be an upper-division Pac-10 team, at least.
-- USC hiked its offensive production from 58.9 points per game through eight outings to 64.8 in its past four, an improvement of 5.9 points. Still, USC entered conference play last in the Pac-10 in scoring at 60.3 points.
-- Trojans already were playing solid defense, surrendering just 58.1 points through eight games. But over the past four before the start of Pac-10 play, they allowed just 52.8. Their field-goal defense figure of 37.5 percent was tops in the Pac-10.
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: The Trojans hope the arrival of PG Mike Gerrity and F Leonard Washington continues to provide a dramatic transformation. They certainly could develop some instant momentum with a couple wins at home against the Arizona schools to open the conference schedule.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's a true point guard. We don't have a lot of those." -- USC Kevin O'Neill on Mike Gerrity.
SEASON RECAP: It's almost been two different seasons for USC, which was an uninspiring 4-4 through eight games but has won its past four with the arrival of Mike Gerrity as the floor leader.
USC 55, Western Michigan 51
USC 60, Saint Mary's 49
USC 67, UNLV 56
IN FOCUS: How much of a joker is the Pac-10 schedule maker? O'Neill faces Arizona -- for whom he served as interim head coach two years ago -- in his first Pac-10 game as the Trojans' top man. The game has significance, too, as two teams with unsettled resumes try to get off on the right foot in the conference.
--Senior G Dwight Lewis has averaged 14.2 points during the Trojans' six-game winning streak after scoring at just a 10.7 clip in the previous six games. But he is just 1-for-10 from the 3-point line in the past four outings.
--Senior F Marcus Johnson averaged 11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in three games at the Diamond Head Classic, including 19 points in the championship win over UNLV.
--F Alex Stepheson was averaging 16.8 points and 11.3 rebounds in a span of four games before the Trojans landed in Hawaii. But he averaged just 3.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in three games on the islands, shooting 4-for-16.
Kevin O'Neill has the Trojans playing much better than expected. (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)
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