Prepping for Stanford

Coach Kevin O'Neill's squad will leave campus at 3:30 this afternoon and head to the Bay Area, where road tests against Pac-10 rivals Stanford and Cal await.

Stanford was blown out by Cal last weekend 92-66. But the unranked Cardinal have played teams tough this season -- including a near-upset of John Wall-led Kentucky in November that went to overtime.

The Trojans (10-4, 2-0) haven't won at Maples Pavilion since a 2002 upset of the then-No. 10 Cardinal. That USC team, ranked No. 20 at the time, received a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament and was famously upended by UNC-Wilmington.

Anyway, back on the topic -- winning at Stanford is difficult.

So said O'Neill after his team finished a shorter than expected Tuesday practice.

"We know the challenges of playing on the road," O'Neill said. "And it's our job, knowing that, to do the best job we can against Stanford and Cal.

"Being on the road, in our league, that's difficult. But I can only judge our readiness by what I've seen in the two practices since Sunday -- and in those two practices, we've been as focused as we've been all year."

Another test to the team's focus comes in the unfortunate passing of radio play-by-play man Rory Markas, who died yesterday at his Palmdale home.

Some reports have attributed the death to a heart attack, but nothing has been formally announced by the university or the Los Angeles Angels, for whom Markas also worked.

To echo what has been said across media outlets today, Markas truly was a great man — and a wonderful broadcaster, to boot.

O'Neill stressed after practice that his players loved Markas and will grieve on their own. But he doesn't expect it to affect their performance over the coming days.

"Our guys are smart guys," O'Neill said. "They're aware of what's going on and they understand, but I think they will keep their eyes on the ball."