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Basketball: Friday practice report

USC (12-10, 4-6 in the Pac-10) lost to UCLA, 64-50, on Wednesday at Pauley Pavilion. The Trojans don't play again until Thursday against Oregon State, but they were back at it at the Galen Center for a two-hour session Friday afternoon. Here's a practice report with one eye looking back at the UCLA game and one looking forward to the final eight games of the regular season:

Second-half shots

Fifteen points in one half, Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill said Friday, won't cut it. And not on the road, especially.

But that's what USC did Wednesday. The Trojans went into the break trailing by one, 36-35, and took a quick lead on two baskets early in the second half. But USC managed only 11 points in the final 18:42 of the game, five field goals and one free throw. Incredibly, USC made only one shot outside the key in the second half.

“Fifteen points in the second half on the road isn’t going to do it," O'Neill said after practice. "Plus, let’s face it – UCLA had to win the game. We’d beaten them four straight. In their minds, I’m sure that’s a must win. They played with great energy and they were ready to play.

“They deserved to win."

O'Neill also noted that the Bruins had improved quite a bit from the last time the two teams played in January, as he had suspected. UCLA also entered the game having won five of its last six, whereas the Trojans had won only two of six. The difference in momentum was fairly clear, although O'Neill maintained he was pleased with his squad's effort.

“He thought we played hard and didn’t quit and it was a good comeback from Arizona,” forward Nikola Vucevic said Friday. “But we just needed to finish and we weren’t able to.”

Fontan held scoreless

Jio Fontan is struggling.

The transfer guard, who began play with the Trojans in mid-December after sitting out a season after transferring from Fordham, has been held scoreless in two of the last three games -- including an 0-for-5 shooting effort against the Bruins on Wednesday.

O'Neill dug into him some during practice to be more aggressive shooting the ball, but other than that, the coach said Fontan was doing just fine.

“He’s playing well, he just hasn’t scored," O'Neill said. "He’s run this club very well. Against UCLA I thought he did a great job of running the team."

Still, Fontan has clearly not performed up to O'Neill's expectations. The coach hyped up his midseason arrival all offseason and called him the team's best player multiple times in the weeks leading up to his debut.

The Trojans are 6-7 with Fontan. They were 6-4 without him. He's not the reason for that decline -- rather, the fatigue of playing too many minutes has caught up to the Trojans and the competition has gotten tougher -- but O'Neill had surely expected more from Fontan and the squad upon his arrival.

Said O'Neill: "It’s his first time playing in a year and a half, and it shows."

Postseason possibilities

The NCAA tournament was the goal for the 2010-2011 season, the Trojans said time and time again during the preseason and nonconference play.

The tune has changed some now that the goal looks almost entirely out of reach. USC is tied for sixth in the Pac-10 with a disappointing 4-6 conference record. The NIT looks like a more realistic goal at this point. O'Neill was stressing "reasonable expectations" after Friday's practice.

"To me, I think we’d have to win six of our last eight to even have a faint chance at the NCAA tournament," he said. "But I think if we were fortunate enough to have a winning record I think we’d get NIT consideration because of our strength of schedule."