Senior Pavol Losonsky appeared to give the Anteaters a 6-9 buffer against the inside domination that helped USC post a 47-26 rebounding advantage, including a combined 27 boards from Vucevic and Stepheson.
But after producing nine points and three rebounds in the first half, Losonsky picked up his fourth foul with 17:51 left in the game and played just seven minutes after intermission. He wound up with a team-high 13 points and eight rebounds.
UCI was also playing without 6-9 junior Adam Folker (broken hand) and 6-9 freshman Maxime Chupin (still awaiting NCAA eligibility). In addition, 6-9 senior Peter Simek (no points or rebounds in nine minutes) has yet to find a comfort level after returning from a broken wrist suffered in the off-season.
"They killed on the rebounds," said Wise, who looked every bit the part of the battered challenger after producing 12 points and five rebounds in 35 minutes.
Wise emerged from the postgame locker room with some ice on a pulled right groin and a bandage on a small cut at the outside corner of his left eyebrow, about the width of a fingertip. "They just pushed us under [the basket]."
Vucevic, who led the Pac-10 in rebounding last season at 9.4 per contest and is one of 50 players on the preseason watch list for the John R. Wooden Award, had two put-back baskets in the final 10 minutes, including one with 5:48 left that was in the middle of a 7-0 Trojans run after UCI had closed to within 51-45 with 7:07 left.
Vucevic finished with five offensive boards, two fewer than Stepheson, as the duo helped USC, playing its season opener, produce 12 second-chance points, eight more than UCI.
There were plenty of rebounds to be had as both teams shot just better than 34% from the field, including a 20% showing from UCI beyond the three-point line (five of 20).