Nikola Vucevic has career game in front of host of scouts as USC upsets Texas

LOS ANGELES -- Fed up with his team's play in two straight road losses, Southern California coach Kevin O'Neill drove his point home in a punishing week of practice.

Defense wins games, he yelled, and the Trojans heard him.

Nikola Vucevic scored 16 of his career-high 24 points in the first half and USC clamped down defensively to beat Texas (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 19 AP) 73-56 on Sunday night in its biggest win of the season. It was the Trojans' first win over a ranked team since last season when they beat Tennessee, O'Neill's former team.

"This was huge for us and great for our confidence," he said.

The Trojans (5-4) led the entire way, snapping a two-game skid in front of about 25 NBA scouts. Alex Stepheson added 14 points and 11 rebounds, Maurice Jones had 12 points and Marcus Simmons 11 for USC in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series matchup.

"We lost two games in a row and that first practice back was tough," Simmons said. "K.O. was cursing like he always does and guys were diving on the floor making hustle plays."

It paid off against the Longhorns.

J'Covan Brown led Texas with 17 points. Jordan Hamilton, from nearby Compton, was held to 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting, well off his average of 21.7 points.

"He (Simmons) did a great job on guarding me," Hamilton said. "I could've taken better shots in the first half. I forced some, went back to what I was doing last year. (Being) back home, I got caught up in the hype and everything like that. I shouldn't let myself get like that."

The Longhorns (6-2) came in averaging 78.6 points and had outscored their opponents by an average of 17.7. Their 56 points were a season low.

"We came out with no energy," said Hamilton, who had 50 family and friends at the game.

The Longhorns were clearly riled by USC's defensive pressure, with Simmons keeping Hamilton in check and the Trojans contesting shots while capitalizing on fast-break chances.

"Our defense is back to where it was last year and it's going to stay that way," O'Neill said, sitting next to Stepheson, who replied, "Yes it is."

"Throughout the week, coach really stressed defense and toughness," Stepheson said. "There was some yelling , some running, some two to three-hour practices of pure defense."

The Trojans opened the second half with a 14-3 run, including nine straight points, to build 49-30 lead. Stepheson had six points in the spurt and freshman Bryce Jones provided the biggest highlight, taking a pass from Maurice Jones and scoring on a play that began when the Trojans blocked a shot at the Longhorns' end.

"Our big men weren't being aggressive, they thought USC was just going to lay down," Brown said. "But coach said that off the bat they're going to put the ball in the post and try to muscle us and out-tough us."

Texas twice got within 10, the first time by outscoring USC 11-2 midway through the half. Two free throws by Brown again drew them to 59-49 with 5:44 to play.

But Simmons continued harassing Hamilton, and Maurice Jones scored nine of USC's final 15 points. The Trojans made 13 of their final 16 free throws.

"We got outplayed in every area of the game," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "They didn't do one thing we didn't think they were going to do. But it only takes one guy to break out of it to not make it work."

The Trojans built their largest lead of the first half, 33-20, on three consecutive 3-pointers, including two by Vucevic. Hamilton's only basket came on a goaltending call.