Basketball: Starting lineup emerging

It will only be temporary, but it looks like the Trojans have found a starting five that works for them until guard Jio Fontan becomes eligible to suit up for the Trojans in mid-December.

The lineup? Two freshmen guards -- the unrelated Maurice and Bryce Jones -- and three returners on the front line: Marcus Simmons, Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic.

Saturday, the five suited up in a game format for the first time as USC held its annual Cardinal and Gold Scrimmage at the Galen Center, and the Cardinal starters topped the Gold reserves, 39-29, in a 16-minute game made up of four four-minute periods.

Afterward, USC coach Kevin O'Neill cautioned against proclaiming the five his set starters but admitted that he "felt comfortable" starting that group. O'Neill's squad will have to play the first 10 games of its season without Fontan, who is slated to return Dec. 18 at Kansas and will likely be immediately inserted into the starting five.

Gold guard Donte Smith led all scorers with 20 points on four-of-eight shooting from three-point range, with reserve forward Aaron Fuller adding six. Fuller is sitting out this season per NCAA transfer rules after transferring from Iowa in the spring.

For the Cardinal, Vucevic had 13 points and eight rebounds while playing all 16 minutes, and Simmons added eight points while demonstrating a much-improved jumper from a season ago.

Three of USC's 10 likely rotation players missed all or most of the game with injuries. Freshman forward Garrett Jackson suffered a small fracture in his nose earlier in the week on an errant elbow in practice and is sporting a nasty black eye while awaiting word on when he can return. Fontan, a junior guard who transferred from Fordham last December, sat out with a strained rib muscle and will also sit out of practice Sunday, O'Neill said.

Freshman forward Curtis Washington -- the Trojans' only player taller than 6-foot-7 aside from Stepheson and Vucevic -- left the scrimmage after starting and playing two minutes early on.

Mo Jones scored the first points of the game on a quick-driving lay-up, and Bryce Jones added a slam dunk after stealing the ball at midcourt, giving the Cardinal team a 4-0 lead that held up. The Gold squad got as close as 25-22 with a minute remaining in the third quarter before Simmons answered with a clutch three-pointer assisted on by Mo Jones, and Vucevic converted two free throws on the next offensive possession to open the lead up to eight points.

Final notes: O'Neill spent most of the 40-minute scrimmage chatting with USC athletic director Pat Haden and watching on the Cardinal bench. Assistant coaches Dieter Horton (Cardinal) and Tony Miller (Gold) coached the respective squads. The head coach also thanked the 100 or so fans in attendance before and after the game. ...The Trojans practiced for about two and a half hours before the scrimmage, with Fontan and Jackson also sitting out. On a three-on, one-off practice schedule for the preseason, USC will practice again Sunday and Monday before taking Tuesday off.


O'Neill talked after the scrimmage about his team's improvement over the first week of practice and talked glowingly about freshman dynamo Mo Jones.

See what else the second-year coach had to say Saturday, including his updates on the trio of injuries:


Vucevic talked about the team's early, evident improvement and his performance in the scrimmage. See the video: