USC punched its ticket to the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic with a well-rounded performance against St. Mary's, using balanced scoring from eight players to beat a talented Gaels team, 60-49.
Point guard Mike Gerrity again led the Trojans with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, and center Nikola Vucevic added 15 points and seven rebounds to provide an inside-outside punch.
The Trojans (7-4) held the Gaels (10-2) to a season-low 49 points on just 16 made field goals. Senior center Omar Samhan, averaging 21.5 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, was held to 13 and 10. The only other Gael to put up double figures was guard Mickey McConnell (17), and once again, USC held its opponent to only five scorers.
For coach Kevin O'Neill, the contest marked the first time this season he had the use of all eight of his projected contributors. Interestingly, he played Leonard Washington almost exclusively at the power forward spot — as a substitute for Alex Stepheson. Washington just became eligible when first-semester grades were posted this morning.
Washington made a big play almost as soon as he entered the game, jumping to steal a pass fromMcConnell and taking it in for the open-court dunk. He had 10 points, six rebounds, and two blocks in his season debut. With Stepheson virtually invisible for the second consecutive game, it wouldn't surprise me to see O'Neill starting Washington in the very near future.
Late in the second half, St. Mary's mounted a comeback to get the score as close as 47-43, but Vucevic defended a Samhan shot from the right block and Gerrity hit a big three-pointer to give the Trojans a 50-43 lead. From there, USC finished off the victory and secured a spot in the title game against the winner of the No. 20 UNLV-Hawaii game at 8:30 tonight.
UNLV (11-1) was the favorite coming into the tournament. The Rebels have beat some solid teams in Arizona and Louisville this year.