TUCSON -- Talked to USC basketball coach Kevin O'Neill to pick his brain a bit on his squad's 62-49 season-opening win over UC Irvine on Saturday.
Here's what he said:
On his overall first impressions:
"We lost 70 percent of our scoring, three starters and Leonard Washington, so four of our top six off last year's team. We're replacing these guys with freshmen and transfers and we're still recovering from the whole investigation. I liked the way we played today -- I really did. I was pleased with how we played defensively, and the freshmen got their feet wet and did a pretty good job. We didn't play maybe like other people wanted us to play, but I thought we played very well."
On his intention to run the court more and how it worked out in the opener:
"[Freshman point guard Maurice Jones] played 40 minutes. We'd like to speed up the game, but we can't speed up the game until the other guys start running with the ball. The bottom line is that Nik and Al aren't great runners. We need the other guys to become runners.
On how UC Irvine looked:
"I look at it this way: Illinois, No. 13 in the country, beat these guys by 14 and we beat them by 13, so I'm cool with what we did. I thought UC Irvine played really well; they had good players, were well-coached. A win is a win for me."
On the play of his three key freshmen, Maurice 'Mo' Jones, guard Bryce Jones and forward Garrett Jackson:
"I thought Bryce played very well for his first game as a freshman. Mo really controlled the game in a lot of ways, so I was pleased with those guys in particular. Garrett was the other freshman that got in and he didn't play great, but it's gonna take him a little bit of time because he missed some practice time and all that. There's going to have be more minutes for him as we go along. It's just gonna take a little bit of time for him to catch up and focus on the stuff he missed over that two-week period with a broken nose."
On the play of senior forward Alex Stepheson, who had six points and 13 rebounds:
"Al played 37 minutes, which is [the third-most] he's ever played in a game. He ended up having 13 rebounds, which I'm really pleased with, and as it goes along we can get him a little more rest by giving Marcus Simmons some minutes at the 4. That'll get [Stepheson] an opportunity to become a better player and react a little bit better on the inside."
O'Neill also said sophomore forward Evan Smith, who did not play, is out for an "undisclosed" amount of time with a shoulder injury.