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Team meeting sparks USC basketball’s defensive and season turnaround

By in Press Enterprise on February 2, 2018

By Joey Kaufman

LOS ANGELES — USC needed to talk.

The chat came five weeks ago, minutes after a loss to Washington in its Pac-12 Conference opener. Ambitions were fading for the one-time preseason top-10 team, and the latest defeat was its fourth in a month.

Assistant Chris Capko told players to stay for a team meeting, and they obliged, huddled in the locker room at the Galen Center. They remained in their home white uniforms for about an hour, leaving near midnight.

“We were on a slippery slope, and it looked like we were heading downhill,” guard Elijah Stewart said, “so it was one of those last efforts to salvage the season.”

No one was happy.

“At the time, it was kind of awkward,” center Nick Rakocevic said. “Everybody was kind of pissed.”

All of the coaches spoke, as with most players, airing frustrations and pointing toward potential changes.

Little was off-limits, the Trojans recollected a month later.

“Everybody had something to say,” guard Jonah Mathews said.

Their particular concerns varied, but a prevailing issue emerged: defense. It was an obvious sore spot. In the loss to Washington, the Trojans allowed the Huskies to make 67 percent of their shot attempts — the highest mark any opponent had recorded against them in more than a decade.

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