• Mon. Jun 17th, 2024

USC coach – Bronny James ‘still getting back into basketball shape’


Dec 29, 2023 #Sports


EUGENE, Ore. — Bronny James‘ first Pac-12 experience fell short of being an unforgettable one for USC.

The Trojans cut a 20-point first-half deficit down to four points before Oregon was able to hold on for an 82-74 win at Matthew Knight Arena on Thursday night.

For both Oregon (9-3) and USC (6-6), this was the league opener in what is their final Pac-12 season. It started out looking like a Ducks blowout after Oregon led 40-20 with 1:30 remaining in the first half. But senior guard Boogie Ellis hit a 3-pointer that got USC within 78-74 with 39 seconds to play. Ellis had a chance to cut the Trojans’ deficit to three points later but missed from behind the arc as Oregon held on.

Not only was this James’ first taste of conference play, it was just his fourth college game after suffering cardiac arrest July 24 during a USC practice. James, the eldest son of Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, later underwent a procedure to treat a congenital heart defect.

The freshman, who is on a minutes restriction and largely plays in three-minute stints off the bench, finished with 5 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and an assist in 15 minutes. He got off to perhaps his best start in a game but picked up his fourth foul late in the second half.

“Bronny was very solid tonight,” USC coach Andy Enfield told ESPN. “He’s still getting back into basketball shape. He gets winded, so we have to give him breaks, but he’s really good of asking to come out of the game. He’s a very impressive young man.

“He gave us good energy off the bench. He just needs to keep getting better. It’s only his fourth game, and so he’s a big part of our team, like our other guys, and we need that. We need all of our guys to improve, including him.”

James was looking for his first winning streak after experiencing his first collegiate victory when USC beat Alabama State 79-59 on Dec. 19.

With USC down 12-2 in Eugene, James drilled a 3 with 14:34 remaining in the first half. In his first five minutes, he had registered 3 points, 3 rebounds and 2 steals.

But the Trojans fell behind by 20 just before the half.

“Our starting lineup decided to play basketball with some passion, some energy and some toughness,” Enfield said of USC’s second-half comeback. “They didn’t do that in the first half … made a lot of defensive mistakes. But in the second half, they started to play like they are capable of. I was very proud of them. They fought back in the game, showed a lot of toughness.

“But games are 40 minutes long, and it starts with our starting unit. It starts with our upperclassmen, our guys that are supposedly our preseason all-conference players. They have to play like it.”

Ellis finished with 11 points but shot 4-for-15. Freshman Isaiah Collier put up 11 points, and forward DJ Rodman added 14 points for USC.

Oregon was led by freshmen Kwame Evans Jr. (22 points, 8 rebounds, 5 steals) and Jackson Shelstad (21 points).

As bad as USC played in the first half with turnovers and lack of execution, the Trojans showed flashes of their best basketball in the second half as they moved the ball for better shots. Following the win at Alabama State, Collier said the players had met after their 91-75 loss at Auburn on Dec. 17 and figured out what their identity is.

Rodman, a senior, said the team’s younger players benefited from the meeting.

“Just knowing our roles, just what we expect out of each other,” Rodman said after Thursday’s contest. “It was nothing harsh, nothing mean. It was just realistic. That was one of the best conversations we had as a team, and I feel like that really opened our eyes.

“We were just honest with each other, and we saw it [tonight in the second half]. We trust each other out there now. I feel like that wasn’t there the first couple games.”

USC will look for its first Pac-12 victory of the season when it plays next at Oregon State on Saturday night. That will be James’ fifth game and another opportunity to build up his minutes and conditioning.

“I think he’s a top defender on our team,” Rodman said of James. “He can make plays, and he’s for sure a point guard [with the way he plays]. I love playing with him, and I love just being around him. I love him as a person and love him as a player.”


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