Basketball: Tuesday practice report

USC (12-9, 4-5 in the Pac-10) plays UCLA on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Westwood. We'll have a preview of the game tomorrow, but here are a few worthwhile nuggets from the Trojans' Tuesday practice in preparation for the Bruins:

Switching things up

Since guard Jio Fontan became eligible nearly a month and a half ago against Kansas, he's been playing almost exclusively at the two-guard position, with freshman Maurice Jones playing the point.

That'll change Wednesday. Coach Kevin O'Neill decided this week to adjust the team's lineup and move Fontan to the point position. Jones will spend more time off the ball.

The decision seems partly influenced by Fontan, who appeared significantly less comfortable off the ball than he did while playing point at Fordham and in high school at St. Anthony's. It also makes sense because Jones played two-guard at Arthur Hill in Saginaw, Mich.

“I definitely wanted to do it," Fontan said. "As I said, from the start it was my natural position. I’ve kinda been playing a lot off the ball and he might be a little bit more effective than me off the ball.

"He’s always been able to score, but me, I’ve been a point guard up until this year."

Jones downplayed the move after Tuesday's practice.

“I don’t think it’ll really change too much," he said. "I kinda played off the ball in high school, so it’s not really a big change.”

Fontan said he thinks it'll be better for the team, allowing the two to both play where they're comfortable. But it's not a long-term thing yet, he said.

Said Fontan: "I think it’s just something we’re gonna try out. I don’t think I’m gonna play point the whole game – I’m just gonna play it a little more than usual.”

Continued energy

Monday's practice began at 8 p.m. and continued past 10, with O'Neill ribbing the team in defensive film review for close to an hour and getting the team in the mood to practice hard.

It showed then, and it showed Tuesday as well, with the energy apparently extended over to this afternoon's practice. There was as little criticism from O'Neill in a practice as in recent memory, and he seemed quite pleased with the team's performance.

A day after the night-time experiment, reaction was mixed. Forward Nikola Vucevic loved it, saying he's more of a late-night person to begin with. Guard Donte Smith? Not so much. He said it was a "battle."

Most of the players agreed it was effective, though. Plus it'll get the Trojans into position for a late-night start tomorrow.

“We needed something to make us angry and boost us up to play harder," Vucevic said of the session. "He made us watch for film like 45 minutes and that made us angry so we wanted to play hard."

Vucevic added that he'd prefer to continue practicing at night when possible.

'We played like women'

Vucevic's postgame comment that the Trojans "played like women" in Saturday's 82-73 loss to Arizona on Tucson earned him a lot of flak over the following couple days, with all sorts of sites picking up the quote.

While Vucevic was speaking with the media after Tuesday's practice, Smith walked by into the USC locker room and ribbed Vucevic: "We played like women!"

Laughter ensued, but the junior forward was obviously embarrassed by the comment. He said his teammates have been continuously making fun of him for it since getting word over the weekend.

“It was kind of a mis-translation – I didn’t try to offend anyone," said Vucevic, who began learning English three years ago when he arrived at Stoneridge Prep in Simi Valley from his native Montenegro. "I was just trying to say we didn’t play that hard. When you say that at home in Montenegro it means you didn’t play hard but it doesn’t offend women. But here’s different, and I didn’t know that and I apologize for it."

Grading the team

Asked to grade the Trojans' performance halfway through the conference schedule, with nine Pac-10 conference games under their belts, Smith gave his squad a 'D-' — as did Jio Fontan, who said the only reason he didn't say 'F' was because they beat UCLA. Forward Alex Stepheson was a bit more generous, giving USC a straight 'D.'

"We could be a lot better," Stepheson said. "We'll try to turn it around."